Steve Fidyk – Allied Forces (2016)

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When I state that Steve Fidyk wrote the book on big band drumming, I’m not being totally honest because he’s written many such books. Fact is, he writes way more books on jazz drumming than he leads record dates, but this notable sideman, educator and — yes — author does do those too once in a while. His first for Posi-Tone Records, Head Up! came forth in 2014, a classic trumpet/sax quintet lineup.

After supporting key dates for other Posi-Tone acts such as tenor saxophone stars Walt Weiskopf and Doug Webb as well as keyboardist Brian Charette, Fidyk is back with his second for the label. Allied Forces is a quintet occasion too, but guitarist Shawn Purcell is the only carry-over; Fidyk also calls in Charette (on organ), Webb and Joseph Henson on alto sax.

Fidyk may be leading a small combo, but he always drums big; For Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence,” Fidyk’s big band swing is on full display here, making the performance feel like it’s being done by a jazz orchestra rather than a five-piece band.

But Fidyk isn’t content to merely sound bigger and fall back on sheer chops to grab your attention; there are some creative arrangements at work, too. Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche” gets special treatment, especially in the ‘A’ section of the melody where Fidyk is syncing his beats to the sax pattern. The sax solos are propelled to the upper atmosphere thanks to Fidyk’s muscular swing. “Food Court Drifter” is a boogaloo blues, alternating between 7/4 and 4/4 meters, and Charette is able to syncopate nicely with Fidyk on the groove. “High Five” is the only performance to go past six minutes and it’s a barnburner. Paced with a very aggressive 5/4 gait, Webb hands down a tenor storm that’s one of the top highlights of the album. Fidyk’s brief drum solo is notable because it evokes but not copies Joe Morello’s iconic solo on “Take Five.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Fidyk took lessons from the great Morello in his youth.

Still, when the chops on display here become the primary focus, it makes for good jazz. “Good Turns” is a good ol’ fashioned bop sizzler, Webb being responsible for the first blast of heat and then the song shifts into a new pattern for Henson’s. The first ballad arrives seven tracks in at “Portrait of Tamela,” an affecting strain made more so by sensitive solos from Purcell and Henson. And “Doin’ The Shake” by Purnell is a riff-based groover that facilitates Fidyk’s slinky beats, while Purcell’s solo on “Gaffe” is standout for such fluid, confident guitar lines.

Brian Wilson’s “In My Room” is the one pop cover of the album and also one of two tunes where the saxes sit out. Fidyk lets Purcell take the reins on this tune and the guitarist doesn’t let him down, delivering beautifully flowing lines. Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” is just Charette and Fidyk, brandishing the brushes. The unsung hero of this album, Charette shows why he’s one of the most discerning organists operating today. A truly pleasing way to end the album.

Allied Forces is going on sale July 29, 2016.


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 jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, 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 svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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