Lists: Jazz rhythm standouts Peter Erskine, Christian McBride, Tony Williams, Dave Holland

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by S. Victor Aaron

PETER ERSKINE, Sweet Soul (1991)

I’ve got scads of records led by John Abercrombie that show Erskine’s prowess on the skins better than this record. But here, Erskine does such a great job leading an ensemble that shifts from track to track. On some, we are treated to Kenny Werner’s inspired keyboard work and on others, John Scofield’s guitar or Randy Brecker’s trumpet takes the lead.

Throughout, Joe Lovano is the ascending star of the set…his tenor and soprano sax foreshadowed his rise to the top of the reedman heap for the last decade. Great choice of songs, from the opening soft “Touch Her Soft Lips And Part” to the slow bluesy orignal title tune to the Brubeck standard “In Your Own Sweet Way”.

CHRISTIAN McBRIDE, No. 2 Express (1995)

As in his first record, the exciting young bassist McBride employs an-star lineup for his sophmore release. With expectations so high for the “new” Ray Brown and his cohorts, it was bound to be a disappointment.

But it wasn’t. Not when your pianist is either Kenny Barron or Chick Corea. Not when your sax player is either Kenny Garrett or Gary Bartz. Not when Jack deJohnette is manning the drum kit. But McBride knows how to employ these musicians for the right situations.

Garrett is perfect for the constant motion of “Whirling Devilish”. And who is better qualified to play piano for the old Corea standard “Tones For Jones Bones” than…um…Chick Corea?

McBride also coaxes Corea to pull out an old Fender Rhodes to great effect for a early seventies-ish orignal “Divergence” (interesting, being that McBride himself wasn’t born until ’72). A collage of well-chosen moods ends appropriately with the Freddie Hubbard gem “Little Sunflower”, performed by Christian on both acoustic and electric fretless basses.

The leader manages to make his presence known without having to resort to Stanley Clarke-type lead guitar ambitions (not a slam to Clarke, just pointing out McBride’s master of subtlety). A strong record from start to finish.

TONY WILLIAMS, Young At Heart (1998)

Six months prior to his unexpected death in 1997 at age 51, drummer extraordinaire Tony Williams signalled a move into the jazz acoustic trio, something he rarely did as a leader. The release of a Lifetime anthology just before his death took all the thunder out of this record before it was even released and it’s a shame, because Williams is much more than just a fusion drummer.

With Ira Coleman on bass and Mulgrew Miller on piano, Williams executes the concept to perfection, playing with his trademark power and agility. After all these years it still sounds like he has a third arm!

For his part, Miller proves why he is one of the best of the current generation of jazz pianists, Brad Mehldau notwithstanding.

JERRY GRANELLI, Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing (1992)

It hardly matters that former Vince Guaraldi drummer Granelli’s record is a salute to obscure trumpter Buddy Bolden. What does matter is that whatever Granelli’s vision used here, it worked.

Like Charles Mingus, Granelli looked back to tradition when choosing/composing the tunes as well as arranging them, but in a fresh way. But the line-up is equally inspiring: Bill Frisell, Robben Ford (yes, Robben Ford), Julian Priester, Kenny Garrett, among others.

DAVE HOLLAND QUARTET, Conference Of The Birds (1973)

In the seventies, this wouldn’t be considered overlooked, but the passage of time and the attention given to Holland’s excellent recent releases have pushed this avant garde classic into near-obscurity (not to mention that it’s fairly hard to score this CD). But the ambitious debut effort by the Brit bassist has not diminished one iota. Employing a quartet fronted by two reeds/flute players, Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers, with the drum chair occupied by Barry Altshul, Holland’s Ornette-ish vision for free jazz bathed in melodics is carried out about as well as anything Coleman’s band has done.

Braxton and Rivers play with, around and against each other with astounding dexterity, especially on the opener “Four Winds”. Holland’s lightening fast finger speed on the stand-up double bass is evident throughout, notably on hyperactive tunes such as “Q&A” and “Interception”.

But the pleasant surprise of this collection comes from the solemn beauty of the title cut…like an oasis of calm in the middle of a sometimes-chaotic storm of songs.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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