HERLIN RILEY – NEW DIRECTION ★★★
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Mack Avenue Herlin Riley (d, v), Bruce Harris (t), Goodwin Louis (as, ss), Emmett Cohen (p), Mark Whitfield (g), Russell Hall (b) and Pedrito Martinez (congas).
New Orleanian Riley is one of today’s premier jazz drummers. Aside from observing him at work over the years with Wynton Marsalis, it’s been a joy to see him fronting his hard-swinging quartets either in New Orleans or at Ascona with the late Tim Green or Victor Goines playing saxophone. So a new album under his name is to be welcomed, surely? Not so this time, for this is Riley looking for a softer landing, all 10 compositions written by him, slight affairs, their character and interest strictly limited for this listener, at least. The players are all young bar Harris, with veteran Whitfield confined to a single track. Admittedly Harris has fiery chops and he and the Haitian Louis do get to flourish on Riley’s ‘Connection to Congo Square’ complete with fade and Cohen can certainly play. Otherwise this album might best be filed under ’jazz-lite’. Much is made in the notes of Riley’s ‘new direction’ and he does feature himself rather more than was customary with Marsalis with mallet and snare excursions, yet manages to eschew swing, only ‘Harlem Shuffle’ giving a glimpse of real jazz quality. Look elsewhere for Riley at his best. Peter Vacher