E.J. Strickland – In This Day (2009)

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by Pico

Last week, another Strickland made his debut.

Enoch Jamal Strickland, better known as “E.J.” Strickland, has made his name as a drummer for notables that include Freddie Hubbard, recent Keystone albums. Marcus got a eight year head start on his brother, making records under his name since 2001, and now it’s E.J.’s turn.

His approach to the drum kit reflects a mature, sophisticated understanding of the role of the drums to music in general and jazz in particular. There isn’t isn’t all this showboating you might hear from some drummer’s records, but his presence is clearly felt. Strickland is exceptional at creating an envelope of cymbals that caresses a song, not suffocates it. He’s also got Elvin Jones’ sublimely subtle polyrhythms absolutely nailed.

As a composer, E.J. gives distinct character to each song. liberally mixing in everything from modern jazz and post-bop to fusion and even some R&B overtones, all in differing degrees for each song. So, even though “Abandoned Discovery” makes use of Luis Perdomo’s electric piano, much like Miles Davis’ Filles De Kilimanjaro, it remains primarily in the advanced bop realm. Hans Glawischnig combines with Strickland to fashion a rumbling, unstoppable rhythm that the horn line of Marcus and altoist Jaleel Shaw easily glide over.

Extra percussion is added courtesy of Pedro Martinez for “Asante (For The Tribes Of Ghana),” where Perdomo’s piano adds a dulcet coat over a busy, African syncopation. That’s before Shaw and Marcus Strickland engage in some lively jousting. The African beasts also pervade in “New Beginnings,” where the pretty main melody runs in half the time of the beat.

And then there’s the majestic, Coltranian prance “Eternal”, preceded by spoken poetry by Cheray “Mama Zun” O’Neal, and graced with some impassioned solos by Jaleel and Marcus. E.J.’s kit work on this tune serves as a worthy tribute to the great Elvin. “In This Day” likewise begins with a poetic recital by Mama Zun. The song itself features Marcus’ composed soprano sax and a penetrating bass solo by Glawischnig. Perdomo’s piano improvisations are virtually perfect on this track.

Marcus’ soprano sax appears again in the closing track “Robin Fly Away,” an intricately constructed song, and is burnished by Perdomo’s cozy Rhodes piano. “Angular Realms” exhibits Strickland’s very advanced technique on both writing and performing fusion. It’s a very shifty melody that moves from chord to chord by taking sharp corners. Guest guitarist David Gilmore tracks along the tricky lines with Shaw and later gives a vibrant solo that calls to mind Fareed Haque.

E.J. has given his talented band plenty of room to strut their stuff, and most of the time it feels like a group effort than a drummer’s record. But there are a few times where the leader steps out front: the brief, percussion-only “Pedrito’s Prelude” and some well-placed and fiery solos on “New Beginnings” and “Angular Realms.”

With the issuance of In This Day, it’s more than fair to say that E.J. set out to put his best foot forward. It’s not from the foot of not a guy who bangs around on a kit, but of someone who composes songs of depth and meaning from behind one. Ravi Coltrane (son of you-know-who) provided the production, of which is hard to find any fault. Same goes for everything else about this record.

In This Day is the third release by the three-year-old jazz label Strick Muzik.