Drummer, composer, bandleader and in-demand sideman Rob Garcia is one of the shining stars at Brooklyn Underground Jazz Records, and in our prior listens of Perennial (2009) and The Drop And The Ocean (2011), we found a drummer who plays his drums with passion and tonal colors, not just rhythm. So perhaps it would be entirely logical that his latest album is titled The Passion of Color.
The Passion of Color (May 27, 2014, Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records) is Garcia’s third album leading his Rob Garcia 4 quartet, a formidable combo that once again comprises of Garcia, pianist Dan Tepfer and tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, with bassist Joe Martin replacing John Hébert. Garcia’s bandmates are their normal superb selves, but the leader himself has raised his game further for the new record. The compositions are a little more adventurous and his drumming sports a little more polish.
And he wastes little time making that apparent. Garcia is busy but crisp during “The Still Standing Blues,” churning hard while his front line swings easy. Martin is keeping up with the leader just fine, though, and lays down a funky solo. “The Passion of Color” presents a fully conceived intro that moves on the rails of Martin’s elusive bass line that attaches first to Garcia and then Preminger. The song finally breaks open into a contrapuntal pattern fueled by Garcia and melodically defined by Preminger. During the break, it’s Tepfer ostensibly soloing, but listen to Garcia’s milling about across his kit right behind him, he’s a controlled ball of fire.
“The Caterpillar Vs. The Butterfly” is percolating bop, and Preminger soars through the changes like a champ while Garcia and Martin form a precise rhythm section and Tepfer complements Preminger with well attuned comping. To cap it all off, Garcia solos like his life depended on it. For “Lines In Impressions” Garcia is doing it all for this shifty song, highlighted by a nearly free middle where everyone pulls on the seams of the melody and stops just short of tearing it apart.
Garcia is hardly a balls-to-the-wall drummer at every turn, though. For “Purple Brush” and “The Garden’s Poet” Garcia uses his brushes to paint the portrait of a cool toned rhythm. He applies mallets to the tom-toms persuasively for a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” switching to the sticks when it’s time to bring the tune to the top of the arc.
An even better cover is Max Roach’s early 60s canticle “It’s Time.” Amidst a vocal choir, saxophonist Clifford Jordan and Roach himself put on a show for the original. The Rob Garcia 4, sans the vocals, slows it down to a spiritual hymn more akin to what Coltrane was playing at the time. His agile use of mallets alone set this kind of tone for the performance, and Tepfer’s articulations are subdued but on the mark. Preminger ushers in a mid-tempo swing and while not as fiery as Jordan, he’s arguably more soulful.
Continuing in the long line of jazz musicians who have molded and revitalized modern jazz from behind a drum kit, The Passion of Color is Rob Garcia at his best. With plenty of top-shelf support from Tepfer, Martin and Preminger, The Passion of Color is more than just an above-average jazz record.
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