12:01pm

Wed March 20, 2013
Music Reviews

Barry Altschul: The Jazz Drummer Makes A Comeback

Originally published on Wed March 20, 2013 1:36 pm

The release last year of a 2007 reunion by the late Sam Rivers' trio confirmed what a creative drummer Altschul is. He has been one for decades. Altschul was a key player on the 1970s jazz scene, when the avant-garde got its groove on. Now, as then, he's great at mixing opposites: funky drive with a spray of dainty coloristic percussion, abstract melodic concepts with parade beats, open improvising and percolating swing. He's a busy player, but never too loud — he's also busy listening.

The 3dom Factor is the sort of comeback album that reminds you how much good music the artist made the first time around. Half the tunes are catchy Altschul oldies. The drummer had already bonded with his telepathically simpatico bassist Joe Fonda in a co-op trio with the late violinist Billy Bang. Fonda is as perfect for Altschul now as bassist Dave Holland was in the '70s, which is saying a lot.

On tenor saxophone in "Papa's Funkish Dance" is the prodigiously, sometimes ridiculously talented Jon Irabagon. His own records often lean toward his antic, wild-man side. That's tamped down a bit here, but not too much. The saxophonist gets to do it all: perform a tender or comic lead, or play a quiet supporting role, or indulge his taste for the outlandish outsize gesture. Irabagon is like a younger generation's Sonny Rollins.

Like other drummers, Barry Altschul writes tunes that play complex games with rhythm. A new one, "Oops," takes off from a walking-camel beat he'd heard in Mali, seasoned with some of the Latin rhythms he'd learned growing up in the South Bronx. Altschul said recently that as a composer, he just wants to write tunes that are fun to play. Now, there's an old putdown of jazz and improvised music: that it sounds like more fun to play than to listen to. I never bought into that myself. Hearing musicians play inspiring material, and link up on the fly, and surprise themselves and each other — that's entertainment. The fun is infectious.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Jazz drummer Barry Altschul turned 70 in January. He first attracted attention in the 1960s and '70s, playing with pianists Paul Bley and Chick Corea and saxophonist Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton. Then, Altschul led his own bands and record dates for a while, although his new album is the first under his own name since 1985.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says, welcome back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IRINA")

BARRY ALTSCHUL: (Instrumental)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: "Irina" from Barry Altschul's new album "The 3dom Factor." The release last year of a 2007 reunion by the late Sam Rivers' trio confirmed what a creative drummer Altschul is. He has been one for decades. Barry Altschul was a key player on the 1970s jazz scene, when the avant-garde got its groove on. Now, as then, he's great at mixing opposites: funky drive with a spray of dainty coloristic percussion, abstract melodic concepts with parade beats, open improvising and percolating swing. He's a busy player, but never too loud - he's also busy listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARTIN'S STEW")

WHITEHEAD: Barry Altschul's 1979 composition "Martin's Stew," for drummer Stu Martin. "The 3dom Factor" is the sort of comeback album that reminds you how much good music the artist made the first time around. Half the tunes are catchy Altschul oldies. The drummer had already bonded with his telepathically simpatico bassist Joe Fonda in a co-op trio with the late violinist Billy Bang. Fonda is as perfect for Altschul now as bassist Dave Holland was in the '70s, which is saying a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAPA'S FUNKISH DANCE")

WHITEHEAD: On tenor saxophone is the prodigiously, sometimes ridiculously talented Jon Irabagon. His own records often lean toward his antic, wild-man side. That's tamped down a bit here, but not too much. The saxophonist gets to do it all: play a tender or comic lead or a quiet supporting role, or indulge his taste for the outlandish outsize gesture. Irabagon is like a younger generation's Sonny Rollins.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OOPS")

WHITEHEAD: Like other drummers, Barry Altschul writes tunes that play complex games with rhythm. A new one, "Oops," takes off from a walking-camel beat he'd heard in Mali, seasoned with some of the Latin rhythms he'd learned growing up in the South Bronx. Altschul said recently that as a composer, he just wants to write tunes that are fun to play. Now, there's an old putdown of jazz and improvised music: that stuff sounds like more fun to play than to listen to. I never bought into that myself. Hearing musicians play inspiring material, and link up on the fly, and surprise themselves and each other - that's entertainment. The fun is infectious.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure, Downbeat, and eMusic and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "The 3dom Factor," the new album by jazz drummer Barry Altschul.

I'm glad today is the first day of spring. There's a spring song I want to play for you by a singer I recently heard for the first time, Joe Derise. The song, "It Might As Well Be Spring," is about it not being spring. But spring is in the title, so that's good enough for me. This was recorded in 1954. Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING")

JOE DERISE: (Singing) I'm as restless as a willow in a windstorm. I'm as jumpy as a puppet on a string. I'd say that I have spring fever. But I know it isn't spring.

(Singing) I am starry-eyed and vaguely discontented, like a nightingale without a song to sing. Why should I have spring fever when I know it isn't spring? I keep wishing I were somewhere else, walking down a strange new street...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.