(Kenny Drew, piano; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Sam Jones, bass; Louis Hayes, drums)
The classic Kenny Drew album, Undercurrent, now has an RVG remaster and it’s wonderful to hear Drew, Mobley, and Hubbard sounding fuller and sharper. There’s a warmth to the remaster that I don’t hear on the original issue. The difference between Drew’s propulsive piano line on the title track on the original issue, and on the remaster is that the piano rings out louder and with more clarity, forcing you to call attention to it. This is the case throughout the album, with the improved clarity allowing for a new appreciation for the playing.
As mentioned above, Undercurrent begins with a Flight of the Bumblebee-esque flurry of notes from Drew, which is quickly followed by a swinging solo from Mobley that briefly incorporates Drew’s intro. Hubbard’s solo is blasting and brash, though his sense of control allows his excited playing to never get too unwieldy. Funk-Cosity is a minor key funk workout that begins with Hubbard and Mobley sharing a descending progression. Hubbard’s solo on the song is restrained (at least for him) while still spirited. Drew’s solo is wonderfully tense because it‚s restrained and melodic, forcing you to wait before the main theme bursts through again.
On Lion’s Den, a reference to Alfred Lion’s original studio on Lexington Ave. in East Harlem, Drew plays around with the shifts in rhythm, playing more straightforward lines when the rhythm is bumpier and playing bouncier when the rhythm straightens up. Groovin’ the Blues finds Mobley bouncing his notes into the pocket of groove created by the rhythm section of Jones and Hayes, while Hubbard creates tension by phrasing notes all over the meter and then slowing down for longer, bluesy lines.
Hubbard’s tone is seductive on the final track on the album’s only ballad, entitled Ballade. According to the liner notes, Drew wrote the song in honor of a woman he was enamored of. His playing on the song is almost impossibly delicate, sounding as close to a harp as I’ve ever heard a piano sound.
For fans of hard bop, Undercurrent is where it’s at. Since I’m sure most hard bop devotees may already own the original issue of the album, I recommend this remaster. As someone who’s often complained about the conservatism of piano, drums, bass, and horn-centric jazz, I was surprised how exciting and rich I found Undercurrent.
TrackList: Undercurrent, Funk-Cosity, Lion’s Den, The Pot’s On, Groovin’ The Blues, Ballade.
– Daniel Krow