Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New Recording from Drummer E.J. STRICKLAND - THE UNDYING SPIRIT

The Undying Spirit lives up to its name as the sophomore release from drummer & composer E.J. Strickland.  On this album we are witness to the evolving sound of his quintet - with more spirit, more groove, and more spotlight on its leader.  The Undying Spirit features a familiar quintet - E.J. Strickland on drums, Jaleel Shaw on alto sax, Marcus Strickland on tenor & soprano saxes, Luis Perdomo on piano, and new addition to the group, Linda Oh on bass. 

The very first note of this musical journey is the captivating start of E.J.'s explorative solo on the tune "Ride". With his gripping opening statement, the drummer sets the tone for the first track and ultimately for the entire album.  "Ride" continues with a playful theme beautifully executed by Marcus Strickland & Jaleel Shaw, with a joyful and articulate piano solo by Luis Perdomo, containing many rhythmic gems. Also on "Ride", bassist Linda Oh effortlessly maintains the shape of the ostinato while demonstrating great interplay with E.J., as if she has been a member of the quintet for years. Tunes like "Ride" and the album's closer "Impromptivity" display the group's innate ability to build a story on top of a groove; bouncing off one another's phrases while maintaining the overall sway throughout.  

A strong characteristic of Strickland's compositions is the re-introduction of themes and melodies thatlead to multiple atmospheres for improvisation throughout any particular tune.  For example, on "For My Home Folks", the group demonstrates their ability to capture the sentiment of a song, as heard through the soulful cries of Marcus & Shaw's horns followed by E.J.'s emotional drum solo.  This ability is also showcased on "Ballad For All Mankind" which features a beautifully lyricized bass solo by Oh which flows into a contemplative exchange between Marcus & Shaw. Also on this track, Marcus' award-winning playing sings alluringly over its theme. Although ballads are a rare platform for a drum solo, E.J. masterfully constructs a moving piece over the softness of the rhythm section.  "Transcendence" shows off the band's sophistication as they weave in and out of the tune's 3-bar 5/4 structure with great ease and expression.  In addition to E.J.'s compelling original compositions, the quintet takes on the great Cedar Walton's "Hindsight", which also serves as a feature for the leader.  

Throughout the various time feels on this album the band displays true versatility. With their lively swing feel on "Hindsight", they offer a refreshing contrast.  On "Bomba For Leel & Max" a weaving horn line flies over a complex basso continuo in the rhythm section with a brisk-paced Latin groove.  Both of the horn players, whose nicknames are mentioned in the song's title, get a very intense sax exchange feature over a vamp following Perdomo's energetic solo.  The most quiet and subtle moments of the album can be found on "Midnight's Clearing" which starts out almost free of time but, never without pulse as Oh plays it's eerie bass line that starts off dark and drifts into a more upbeat tone.  The saxophonists blend and compliment each other gorgeously as they explore their counter-melodies, as they also do on "A Dance For Mojo's Return", which is set-up beautifully by Perdomo's opening cadenza.  On this composition the group makes a meal of the different time feels - a driving force on all four beats, and a half-time backbeat lilt.  This all gives way to an astonishing drum shout section on which E.J. improvises.  "Tune For S.C." is a simple and pretty melody overlaying a magical upbeat bass line and features very endearing solos by Marcus and Perdomo. 

With this recording, one of E.J.'s goals was to provide an album that would prove to be uplifting to the listener, as it's title, The Undying Spirit, suggests.  The drummer/composer also wanted to capture the quintet's growth, the refinement in his composing, and his ever-evolving ability to standout as a leader; mission accomplished! 

E.J. Strickland Quintet - Upcoming CD RELEASE CELEBRATIONS:

February 27th @ The Side Door, Old Lyme, CT
E.J. Strickland - drums, Jaleel Shaw - alto sax, Marcus Strickland - tenor & soprano saxes, Victor Gould - piano, Linda Oh - bass

February 28th @ An Die Musik, Baltimore, MD
E.J. Strickland - drums, Jaleel Shaw - alto sax, Marcus Strickland - tenor & soprano saxes, Victor Gould - piano, Linda Oh - bass

March 29th @ Falcon Theatre, Marlboro, NY
E.J. Strickland - drums, Jaleel Shaw - alto sax, Marcus Strickland - tenor & soprano saxes, Victor Gould - piano, Linda Oh - bass

March 31st @ The Jazz Standard, New York, NY
E.J. Strickland - drums, Jaleel Shaw - alto sax, Marcus Strickland - tenor & soprano saxes, Luis Perdomo - piano, Linda Oh - bass

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