Michael Carvin has led an interesting career as a jazz drummer, and it’s a story that in itself makes you want to explore his body of work. A budding musician in the ’60s interrupted by a tour of duty in Vietnam, Carvin went on to play as a staff drummer for Motown during their late 60s heyday, and gigged with BB King, Bobby Hutcherson and Freddie Hubbard. In New York, he met Jackie McLean and in 1974, ended up co-leading a free-form jazz record with the sax giant in what is probably the most idiosyncratic album of McLean’s vast discography (Antiquity). Carvin also worked with Pharoah Sanders, Lonnie Liston Smith, McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie, Hampton Hawes, Illinois Jacquet, Pat Martino and fellow Vietnam vet Billy Bang. And since Antiquity, he’s gone on to make ten albums of his own.
Carvin took his time following up on his acclaimed Marsalis Music Honors Series album from 2006, but once he assembled a group of young musicians into a quartet called the Michael Carvin Experience, he was ready to go again. Flash Forward, to be released August 19, 2014 by Motéma Music, is led by a drummer who is seventy years young, through a set of eight covers — most of them standards — that are likewise young again in his hands.
There might not be a better example of the vitality Carvin and his band brings to an old, well-cooked tune than their treatment of Gillespie’s “Night In Tunisia,” introduced publically in the stream above. Everything Carvin does on drums is original, and he begins this tunes with hi-hat gallop as Jansen Cinco’s bass pulses at half speed, punctuated by rat-a-tats on the snare. Keith Loftis plays the unmistakable theme on the sax, floating above the rhythm section, and Carvin’s brief, fast-tempo swing excursions finally explode fully into bebop mode for Yayoi Ikawa’s sharp piano solo.
At this stage, it finally feels conventional but Carvin remains as combustible as ever, dropping fills and bombs and making sure the song stays at top gear. All topped off by a show-stopping rumbling drum solo of the kind they don’t do much of anymore, and then back to that frisky intro.
Michael Carvin has also made his mark in jazz as a teacher — he prefers to call his work “coaching” — and it’s clear from the clinic he and his band conducts on “Night In Tunisia” that he’s the Bill Parcells of drums.