Thursday, December 27, 2012

CD Review: Marc Riordan Quartet - Binoculars

Marc Riordan Quartet
(Club Nerodia)

Anyone familiar with Marc Riordan's name outside of Chicago probably knows him as a drummer, a role he filled with the Aram Shelton Quartet and Josh Berman's Old Idea, among others. Binoculars introduces him as a pianist, in a set of seven originals and one cover that show him to be equally as skilled in the melodic world as he is behind the traps.

Riordan's composing owes a great deal to Thelonious Monk. So much so that a couple tracks seem to use phrases from Monk standards as springboards to new directions. The opening phrases of "Lesson Learned" could have ushered in "Monk's Mood," with a few teases of "Crepuscule with Nellie" on the side. "On the 6th" bears has a passing resemblance to "Pannonica." Yet neither example reduces the music, or Riordan, to a mere imitator. With alto saxophonist Peter Hanson upfront, and bassist Daniel Thatcher and drummer Tim Daisy holding the rhythm together, the quartet's sound takes the spirit of '50s angular bop and puts a unique stamp on it. Riordan also cites Herbie Nichols as an influence, which can be felt in "I'll Text You."

Then when it comes to covering an actual Monk song, Riordan goes the extra mile by playing "A Merrier Christmas," which would be known only to scholars or fans who read Robin D. G. Kelley's engrossing Monk biography, since the composer never officially recorded it. Don't look at the CD cover and it's hard to tell which track is the cover, another mark in the quartet's favor.

They also break away from straight four tempo with "Little Dog," a catchy number that translates Ornette Coleman's electric compositions to a loose limbed acoustic setting. The alto theme in "Magnetic Personality" almost sounds like an exercise, but the rhythm section's punctuation keeps it from sounding mechanical. Hanson and Riordan began to solo simultaneously and create some compelling tension in the process. The saxophonist's tone ranges from sharp-tongued to clear-and-crisp throughout the session. Riordan sounds assured and inventive as well, whether he's contributing to a fast melody line, adding some nervous Cecil Taylor-esque trills or comping.

It's still strange to me that so many musicians stay stuck in the "Golden Age" of jazz (post-WWII to the early 1960s) and do nothing but replay that era without adding anything to the canon. But get a group of guys together who are normally associated with more avant-garde leanings and they swing harder and more creatively than the traditionalists. Marc Riordan now has proven his skills on two instruments, so it's understandable if he's in a quandry about which one to pursue. Just keep your eye on him.

No comments: