Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism (Mack Avenue/Southbound)

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Stella By Starlight
Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism (Mack Avenue/Southbound)

This great New Orleans jazz drummer emerged alongside Wynton Marsalis and his neo-con movement in the Eighties and played on many Wynton albums (and pianist Marcus Roberts' Deep in the Shed), is a member of the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra and, like many neo-cons, moved into teaching.

Here with the fine band of pianist Emmet Cohen, bassist Russell Hall, alto player Godwin Louis and trumpeter Bruce Harris, they cover a vast swathe of territory from originals, a look back to inspirations and originators (Ellis Marsalis' Twelve's It, Stella By Starlight, You Don't Know What Love Is) and the unexpected: a swinging treatment of the Willie Dixon/Koko TRalyor/Howlin' Wolf blues classic Wang Dang Doodle with an uncredited but not great vocalist (Riley perhaps?) and is mostly a showcase for the band, notably pianist Cohen.

The gospel church influence is evident on Rush Hour with its simple and joyous handclaps and Harris' surge upwards (which like the title track and Touched capture the spirit) and New Orleans is always close the centre (the title track).

Attention on albums by drummers usually shifts to the frontline soloists but Riley is such a cleverly understated but ever-present gentle force that you are inevitably but subtly drawn towards him, as on You Don't Know What Love Is where he ticks just a fraction behind the beat.

This is classy neo-con jazz which will appeal most to those who embraced that genre which Marsalis defined (at the expense of most others).

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