Kermit Driscoll – Reveille – 19/8 Records 1015, 62:08 [4/5/11] ****:
(Kermit Driscoll – acoustic and electric bass; Bill Frisell – guitar; Kris Davis – piano and prepared piano; Vinnie Colaiuta – drums and percussion)
The first question when hearing bassist Kermit Driscoll’s debut, Reveille, has to be “What took so long?” The New York City-based musician has been a professional musician since the early 1970s and is probably best known for his extensive association with Bill Frisell – who is part of the quartet Driscoll formed specifically for this project – although Driscoll’s lengthy résumé includes film scores, Broadway shows, television commercials and recordings or stage work with everyone from Patti Austin to John Zorn.
Driscoll’s star-studded foursome also features fellow Big Apple denizen Kris Davis on piano and prepared piano – she has toured or performed with Tyshawn Sorey and Tony Malaby among others – and drummer/percussionist Vinnie Colaiuta, famous for his stint in Frank Zappa’s band and who has credits that could stretch to the moon and back. Though the quartet only came together for one day, they function like a group that has been in operation a long time. In a way, though, most of them have. Frisell and Driscoll’s friendship goes back to their days at the Berklee College of Music in the mid-1970s. That’s also where Frisell and Driscoll met Colaiuta. More recently, Driscoll encountered Davis at a rehearsal of John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble and knew he wanted to collaborate with her.
Driscoll has been composing for decades, so this hour-long, ten-track program has both older and up-to-the-minute tunes that showcase Driscoll’s wide range, from avant-garde to Americana. Along with eight originals, Driscoll and his cohorts put a unique spin on the traditional folk/country nugget “Chicken Reel” and Josef Zawinul’s “Great Expectations,” which Miles Davis initially recorded during sessions for Bitches Brew and subsequently issued on the compilation Big Fun.
Each musician contributes to the open-ended arrangements. Colaiuta inputs a varied percussive backing to the layered and modernistic “Four Hearts,” where he stays firmly in time but moves around so much that it is hard to follow what he is doing: it’s an education for any drum student. Frisell is masterful on every cut. He provides pathos to the tender “Farm Life,” an older composition that Driscoll previously performed as a member of New & Used. Frisell offers a similarly blithe spirit on “Hekete,” named after Hecate, the Greco-Roman goddess of the crossroads and magic, and indeed this is one piece filled with surprise and sorcery. In particular, Davis is incredible, adding one stratum after another on piano, speeding up, slowing down, jumping suddenly and unexpectedly to a single note or a run of chords and just as quickly stopping altogether.
Of course, Driscoll has many outstanding sections. He creates a paranormal ambiance when he uses electric bass and digital effects on the insistent, avant-garde “Ire,” which is also an exhibition for Frisell’s extraterrestrial six-string exposition. Driscoll places down a knotty groove on the opener, “Boomstatz,” a fusion-friendly cut. Affability is also in the forefront of the folksy frolic, “Chicken Reel,” which is just plain fun. Reportedly Driscoll simply put up a sheet with the melody on it and everyone just jammed, which is evident in the way the track morphs into different directions but retains a rural groundwork. Another jam-oriented jaunt is the extended “Great Expectations,” a solid jazz-rocker that has a pitched personality that echoes Davis’ enthusiasm for vamps and drones.
2. Thank You
3. For Hearts
4. Chicken Reel
7. Great Expectations
8. Farm Life
9. Martin Sklar
— Doug Simpson