Marc Riordan Quartet – Binoculars (2012)

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It’s a recurring theme we like to discuss here, about great jazz drummers who’ve composed music and led bands from the drum stool. From Max Roach to Sean Noonan, these guys have a special musical vision that comes from being able to literally see everything right in from of them. This piece is likewise about a drummer who’s composing and leading on his debut record, but Marc Riordan isn’t leading from behind. Because on this occasion, the drummer for Josh Berman’s Old Idea, Wishgift, Breakway and the Jeff Kimmel Quartet is at the piano.

For this first impression on record as a leader, Riordan assembled a combo that has performed together in Chicago venues for the last three years. Daniel Thatcher (bass), Peter Hanson (alto sax) and Tim Daisy (drums) have with Riordan began with instant chemistry that they’ve honed and eventually captured on record, entitled Binoculars.

In listening to Riordan’s debut album of seven of his compositions and one cover, I’m often reminded of the debut album of the quartet led by fellow Chicagoan’s Jason Stein, The Story This time. There, as Riordan did here, you find plenty of fealty to the pre-Ayler old-school avant-garde jazz. Whereas Stein referred to Lennie Tristano and Thelonious Monk, Riordan likewise favors Monk but also late 50s Cecil Taylor and classic Ornette Coleman.

The tracks are distinguished by varying degrees of dissonance and euphony. “Little Dog” unveils Riordan’s percussive piano style, loosely holding on to a melody, jousting purposefully with Hanson, and rodeo riding the restless rhythm section. He handles a slow, swinging number “Lesson Learned” with an affecting but plainly rendered manner.

Riordan writes not just for himself; he gets the other guys deeply involved in his compositions: Hanson handles the maze-like theme of “Magnetic Personality,” as Riordan plays his own interpretation of it right alongside him. Both Thatcher and Daisy get choice soloing opportunities on “I’ll Text You.”

“Funometer” adopts Monk’s knack for concocting strains that are eccentric and complex sound so deceptively light and simple, but Riordan eventually speeds it up until it finally runs off the rails. “Binoculars,” however really reveals how much genius Riordan absorbs from this iconic jazz composer: a Monk-type tune that like much of his best work has almost a child-like melody, Thatcher’s bass plays a competing ostinato that Daisy latches onto, as Hanson sides with the pianist. The two threads of melody playing in parallel with each other create a whole new harmonic apart from the individual threads. Almost as if to drive home the point of Monk, an obscure Thelonious cover is performed (“A Merrier Christmas”), one that doesn’t feel at all like one of his lesser tunes in the Riordan Quartet’s hands.

Marc Riordan might have made a name for himself as a drummer, but with Binoculars, he stands in danger of being known as a drummer fourth, after pianist, composer and bandleader. It’s a real possibility, because he does those three things all so well.

Binoculars becomes available for sale October 16, on the Club Nerodia label.

Purchase Marc Riordan Quartet – Binoculars here.

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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 [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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