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New quartet album by jazz drummer Billy Drummond is a treat

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Over the last 30 years, jazz drummer Billy Drummond has made hundreds of records with, among many, many others, horn players John Faddis, Javon Jackson and Marty Erlich, and pianist Renee Rosnes, Steve Kuhn and Carla Bley. He also records as a leader. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Drummond's new quartet album is a treat.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLY DRUMMOND AND FREEDOM OF IDEAS' "LITTLE MELONAE")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Billy Drummond's Quartet on Jackie McLean's "Little Melonae," the sound of a drummer keeping time on ride cymbal is a familiar jazz marker, maybe even a jazz cliche. True, some drummers keeping time sound like they're on autopilot, self-hypnotized, but not the best ones like Billy Drummond. His ride cymbal beat is lively, varied and full of passing cross-rhythms, the sound of a musician fully engaged, hearing and reacting to everything happening around him.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLY DRUMMOND AND FREEDOM OF IDEAS' "LITTLE MELONAE")

WHITEHEAD: Saxophonist Dayna Stephens with Billy Drummond's quartet Freedom of Ideas from their new album "Valse Sinistre." The leader doesn't take many solos, but he doesn't need stand-alone spots to show his stuff. He conducts a lot of side business while keeping time. Great jazz drummers are motivators, prodding their comrades and making sure everything swings in an interactive way. This is Micah Thomas on piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLY DRUMMOND AND FREEDOM OF IDEAS' "RECONFIRMED")

WHITEHEAD: The title track of "Valse Sinistre" is a gem of a waltz by Drummond's old boss, Carla Bley. Dayna Stephens plays it on soprano sax whose bright tone suits the melody and leaves exposed the rhythm section's sideways moves underneath. On bass is Dezron Douglas.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLY DRUMMOND AND FREEDOM OF IDEAS' "VALSE SINISTRE")

WHITEHEAD: "Valse Sinistre" by Carla Bley. The slow ballad and one standard on the album "Valse Sinistre" is David Raksin's 1944 movie theme, "Laura." Billy Drummond's quiet grace with wire brushes reminds me of the great tap dancer Bill Robinson doing a rhythmic shuffle on a sandy surface. But Drummond can also be a little contrary.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLY DRUMMOND AND FREEDOM OF IDEAS' "LAURA")

WHITEHEAD: On Billy Drummond's album "Valse Sinistre," there is also music by pianist Stanley Cowell and Frank Kimbrough and drummer Tony Williams and by members of the band. The quartet revived the late trombonist Grachan Moncur's "Frankenstein" from 1963, a minor tune with odd chord changes, the kind of offbeat choice that helps make this album a treat. It's not surprising that a leader in the habit of attentive listening would turn up some good, old tunes that other folks overlook.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLY DRUMMOND AND FREEDOM OF IDEAS' "FRANKENSTEIN")

WHITEHEAD: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." And he writes for Point of Departure and The Audio Beat. He reviewed the new album Valse Sinistre by Billy Drummond's quartet, Freedom of Ideas.

On tomorrow's show, the risk of growing tension between China and the U.S. Michael Beckley says China is engaged in the largest military buildup since World War II and is being increasingly aggressive with its Asian neighbors and with the United States. Beckley's new book with Hal Brand (ph) is "Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict With China." I hope you can join us. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLY DRUMMOND AND FREEDOM OF IDEAS' "FRANKENSTEIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.
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