Herlin Riley – New Direction – Mack Avenue

Herlin Riley – New Direction – Mack Avenue MAC1101, 63:35 ****:

A captivating and vigorous release from this propulsive drummer. 

(Herlin Riley – drums & vocals; Bruce Harris – trumpet; Godwin Louis –  alto & soprano sax; Emmet Cohen – piano; Russell Hall – bass;  Special guests – Mark Whitfield – guitar on track 1; Pedrito Martinez – conga on tracks 2,3,6)

Herlin Riley is a powerfully authoritative and concisely proficient drummer from New Orleans, who earned his chops in both smaller groups and more prominently as the drummer with the Wynton Marsalis lead Jazz At Lincoln Centre Orchestra. In this release New Direction, he heads a band of young whipper-snappers, who dive into a set list of mostly Herlin Riley originals that run the gamut of styles, but are still jazz-oriented.

The title track “New Direction” kicks things off in exemplary fashion  with Riley laying down a rhythmic direction that signifies his inventiveness, with pianist Cohen offering an inspired solo, and guitarist Mark Whitfield demonstrating why he was included in this session. “Spring Fantasy” is a Latin infused number with a bluesy feel, that has some stellar alto work by Godwin Louis. Pianist Cohen also shows some smart single-note playing.

There is no letdown in the growing intensity displayed by Herlin and the band as they tackle “The Big Banana” to which any golfer may relate. Trumpeter Bruce Harris sets the theme and is driven by Herlin’s cross-currents of rhythm which moves the tune forward in its complex fashion. “Connection To Congo Square” is, as you might imagine, an African-themed number with the conga playing of Pedrito Martinez shaping the frame. Up tempo all the way, trumpeter Harris and altoist Godwin Louis take up the chase with sparkling results.

The album closes with two rousers. An original from pianist Emmet Cohen entitled “Harlem Shuffle” and a traditional New Orleans number called “Tootie Ma”. On the former, Herlin establishes a shuffle rhythm as the title implies, which was often effectively used by drummer Art Blakey. Pushed on by this beat, Louis and Harris establish the theme with some tight unison playing, which then leads to a long perceptive alto solo from Louis. Trumpeter Harris follows up with his own thoughtful exploration, with composer/pianist Cohen reflecting on the composition’s stylistic frame. “Tootie Ma” completes the musical story with an unabashed take on New Orleans second line rhythms with Herlin’s vocal exhortations giving the number its earthy texture.

A captivating and vigorous release from this propulsive drummer.

TrackList: New Direction; A Spring Fantasy; The Crossbar; The Big Banana; Shake Off The Dust; Connection To Congo Square; Herlin’s Hurdle; Hiccup Smooth; Harlem Shuffle; Tootie Ma

—Pierre Giroux

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