Proving that his return to fusion jazz was no one-off fling, Peter Erskine came back a mere thirteen months later with another such record. Second Opinion, now out from Fuzzy Music, is the hastily-recorded follow up to 2016’s well-received and Grammy-nominated Dr. Um, but don’t think for a moment that haste made waste. Making a record within such a tight window “reveal more of the musician’s mettle than longer production can,” advises one of the all-time drumming greats.
The Dr. Um Band reconvened a few months after their first album was released with Benjamin Shepherd being the lone change-up, replacing Janek Gwizdala at bass. He joins the returning John Beasley (keys), Bob Sheppard (reeds, flutes) and Erskine (drums, percussion) to deliver nine songs, six of them contributed by three of the band members.
To these ears, Second Opinion has the feel of a record made where the sheet music was laid out, the musicians assumed their stations and they simply let it flow as soon as the tape rolled. Starting with “Hipnotherapy;” it’s an easygoing funk-jazz tune where Beasley’s piano and Sheppard’s tenor sax are dancing more than soloing, the players probably not even caring so much about getting a magic lick than they are just exploiting the slow but firm beat meted out by Erskine.
“Not So Yes” is the type of crossover jazz that Don Grolnick could have cooked up but with a stronger funk kick thanks to the Erskine/Shepherd rhythm factory. Erskine is thumpin’ forcefully on his spotlight at the conclusion. “Did It Have To Be You?” is essentially a bop tune — and a fancy free one at that — dressed in soul-jazz duds; Sheppard’s sax, Beasley’s organ and Shepherd’s electric bass all take turns riding on Erskine’s masterly swing pulse. “Solar Steps” sports a slinky bass pattern that connects with both Erskine’s tangled swing and the modern electric piano motifs of Beasley. Sheppard summons up the ghost of Michael Brecker as he gets it going on his solo spot.
There are no songs from Erskine’s old band Weather Report this time, but a pair of Beasley compositions has that ol’ WR vibe. Erskine launches “Eleven Eleven” with an elite-level funk gait soon joined by Shepherd in a contrapuntally perfect groove. Beasley’s Rhodes and old school synths complete the reconstruction of that time when fusion was both heady and stimulating to the soul. A soulfully empyrean ballad in the Joe Zawinul way, “Lida Rose” is just enjoyable to listen to for the melody alone, but Shepherd’s introductory Jaco lead lines accentuates its virtues further.
The three cover tunes are all from before the rise of fusion, providing good opportunities for making something new out of old strains. The band takes on a Depression-era Victor Young tune “Street of Dreams” and by keeping the contemporary touches minimal the band retains the song’s pretty rhapsody while freshening it up. Harry Mancini’s gorgeous “Dreamsville” is given a celestial, subdued treatment, Erskine’s brushes and Shepherd’s appealing sashay on bass laying a lush foundation for Beasley’s electric piano and Sheppard’s tenor horn. A better-known cover, “Willow Weep For Me” ends the album with the same laid-back, funky finesse that kicked it off, with Beasley sticking strictly to acoustic piano.
It doesn’t necessarily need to take a long time to make a great record; Second Opinion is great because it’s made by a group of guys who need no forethought to make this kind of music. Not only is this second nature to Peter Erskine, he seems to be having more fun doing it than he ever did.
The second opinion is every bit as good as the first one.