Drye & Drye – Open Letter – NCM East

by | Sep 10, 2013 | Jazz CD Reviews

Drye & Drye – Open Letter – NCM East NCM40135, (2 CDs) CD 1: 34:37, CD 2: 31:36 [7/16/13] ****:

(Howard Drye – baritone saxophone; Brian Drye – trombone; Jeff Hermanson – trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike McGinnis – clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone; Dan Fabricatore – bass; Vinnie Sperrazza – drums)

Some fathers and sons work on cars together; some throw a baseball around the backyard; but if both are musicians, then performing jointly is a natural fit. That’s the crux and foundation of Open Letter, the collaborative double-disc release by baritone saxophonist Howard Drye (the elder Drye) and trombonist Brian Drye (the younger). While both are heard on both discs, disc one concentrates on tunes penned by Howard, while disc two contains pieces composed by Brian: ten tracks total, five per CD. Oddly, the entire project totals 66 minutes, so the music could have gone onto a single disc. But that might have skewed the intent.

All of the material is a tribute to influences both personal and from jazz history, from Horace Silver to Duke Ellington associates, to family members, and to each other. Despite the separate discs, the father and son similarity is recognizable and the hour-long program showcases a durable dose of tradition and legacy, which is aided with the same backing quartet on both discs: Jeff Hermanson on trumpet and flugelhorn; Mike McGinnis (clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone); Dan Fabricatore on bass; and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. McGinnis is Brian Dye’s bandmate in the contemporary chamber jazz outfit, Four Bags. Hermanson has also previously played with McGinnis. Fabricatore has performed in McGinnis’ nonet as well as the Dymaxion Quartet. Sperrazza participates in the Ben Holmes Quartet and his credits include Drew Paralic. Howard Drye is currently the music director for a Rhode Island Catholic parish, and is a graduate of Berklee College of Music. Brian Dye (who is part of the New York/Brooklyn jazz scene) has an extensive background, with stints which involve Clark Terry (another Ellington alum), and Rosemary Clooney.

Disc one opens with McGinnis on clarinet on “Blues for Jimmy,” an appropriately swinging tune which honors noted Ellington sideman clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton. McGinnis exhibits his chops, mimicking at times Hamilton’s cool vibrato-less tone and bop-tinted style. When the arrangement ebbs, Fabricatore provides a wonderful woody bass solo, and then the ensemble returns to the elation-inscribed number, highlighted by Sperrazza’s rolling rhythmic fills. The melancholy “The Empty Chair” is a remembrance of another Ellington bandmember, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges. The sax soloing on this is outstanding, with other horns slipping in and out, sometimes doing unison lines. There is a sense of both bittersweet commemoration and sweet vitality. Another jazz icon is evoked on the hard-bopping “Precious Silver,” dedicated to Horace Silver. The piece is vigorous from start to finish and is distinguished by McGinnis’ lyrical soprano melody, another fine Fabricatore improvisation, and a main theme reminiscent of Silver’s often blues-based mannerism. Howard Drye displays his talent for ballads on “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” which he wrote nearly four decades ago for his wife but never recorded until now. The romantic underpinning features Howard’s lush baritone sax sound, akin to Gerry Mulligan’s rich tone.

Disc two leads off with Brian’s auditory accolade to Thelonious Monk, “Elbows,” titled because of Monk’s angular musical approach and because he occasionally used his elbows to hit the piano keys. Monk’s spirit is front and center, especially with the irregular rhythmic stride, while the interlaced horns bring to mind the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis orchestra, with a clean, crisp arrangement which develops naturally and patiently over the course of seven minutes. Brian also pays homage to an Ellington musical partner, baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, on the evocative, quietly moving “April 1st, 1910,” which refers to Carney’s birth date. In the liner notes, Brian recalls a poster-sized Carney photo which graced his parent’s home, a prominent presentation which revealed Howard’s respect for Carney. Brian gives musical praise to a younger artist during “Orion,” created to revere Brooklyn-based bassist Bob Bowen, a bicyclist who tragically died from a hit-and-run accident in 2010. Brian structured the dynamic track around a bass line Bowen frequently employed. Fabricatore secures the ambling rhythm section, while McGinnis, Howard and Brian deliver plenty of horn alchemy, in particular Howard and McGinnis’ duet, which is followed by another by Hermanson and Brian. The elegant “Sidney” has Southern touches with a light hymnal refinement which alludes to Howard’s South Carolina heritage and religious involvement. While some may assume the harmonically-ornate number might be named after Sidney Bechet (who utilized both clarinet and sax), it is a feline celebration, meant to conjure the characteristics of Brian’s pet cat. Open Letter (which can be streamed in full here) was suitably recorded, mixed and mastered at Systems Two in Brooklyn by Mike Marciano, who supplies engineering which matches the modern-to-retro compositions and performances, specifically the incisive horns, which are the proper mainstay of the material. Hopefully, the Drye’s can do this again before too long, since the result is worth listening to and discovering.

CD 1: Blues for Jimmy; Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow; Ossification; The Empty Chair; Precious Silver
CD 2: Elbows; April 1st, 1910; Home Brew; Sidney; Orion

—Doug Simpson

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