I would be the first to admit that free jazz is not really my strong suit. My tastes tend to run more toward straight ahead or vocally-driven jazz. However, anytime I’ve dabbled in what you might consider “avant garde”, it always seems to come back to drummer-driven music. (Think Jack DeJohnette, etc.)
So it’s surprising and not at all surprising that I’ve been seriously enjoying NYC drummer Devin Gray‘s debut album (as a leader, anyway). Dirigo Rataplan is an wonderfully challenging record, full of inspired motives and playful, skilled musicianship.
I was initially drawn to the album because of the title, having performed a four-part men’s choir song by Donizetti called “Rataplan” from La fille du regiment (don’t ask). “Dirigo” comes from Latin, meaning to direct or lead and “rataplan” is French for the beating of hooves or drums. Thus the title indicates leading from the beat. And lead from the beat Gray does.
With bassist Michael Formanek, saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and trumpter Dave Ballou, Gray has put together a world-class quartet that stretches the boundaries of tonality and rhythm.
Here’s a clip of Gray & Eskelin in action with bassist John Hebert: