Hungarian born, Berklee trained drummer Ferenc Nemeth has high aims for only his second solo album, Triumph, a musical manifestation for his hopes for a world where people can attain their highest potential and work together harmoniously as a collective ambition. These are lofty goals, but understanding his mission you can clearly hear him work to send that message as he carries out his compositions with three sympathetic masters.
Accompanying Nemeth on this album is a lineup I’d get excited about if only one of them were on it and the rest were no-names: Joshua Redman on saxes, Kenny Werner on acoustic and electric piano, and former Berklee classmate and GilFeMa trio partner Lionel Loueke playing guitar and occasionally doing his signature West African scat thing. A woodwind section supplements the quartet at strategic points. No bass player but no problem; Nemeth is able to fill that role alternately via his bass drums and floor toms and Loueke’s bass strings. You really don’t miss it.
Nemeth wrote these songs in discreet moments under different moods but through deft use of interludes, the entire album is an integrated whole, like a jazz concerto. I don’t know if the whole album was played all the way through as a single performance, but that’s the way it sounds. Though there’s too much freedom accorded the players to call this anything close to classical, Nicolas Sorin’s woodwind section will unexpectedly and unobtrusively pop up on any song, supplying a Third Stream undercurrent to these nimble, dynamic songs.
Following a brief, searching intro, the music quickly snaps into focus for the titular song (video of live performance below), and an angular theme emerges punctuated by tactical expressions from Sorin’s woodwinds. As Loueke and Redman take their solo turns, the rest of the band never rests, churning up the asymmetric, vigorous melody. Nemeth’s drums are bursting with angularity and his feel for the other players is beyond telepathic; listening to him precisely follow Redman’s soprano sax’s cadence and flow during his solo turn on “Purpose” confirms that special ability. Just after that, he complements Redman’s tenor with explosiveness and assured swing during “Interlude II”.
Nemeth constructed “Hope” as a highly syncopated layering of motifs among him, Werner, Loueke and Redman, as the woodwinds lurks with a harmonic counterpoint. “Joy” lives up the name with Loueke’s buoyant wordless vocals and light, upbeat guitar lines. Conversely, “Longing” yearns and is a perfect spot for Werner’s delicate expressions and Redman’s sensitive delivery. And finally, “Sorrow and Wishful Thinking” incorporate even more of Loueke’s African concepts of jazz, a peacefully streaming harmony featuring both the guitarist’s voice and vocalist Barbara Togander.
Triumph must be Nemeth’s magnum opus, because it sure feels that way. As an artistic statement from this drummer, composer and bandleader, the title says it all.
Triumph is slated for release September 25 by Nemeth’s Dreamer’s Collective Records. Visit Ferenc Nemeth’s site for more info.
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