BOBBY BATTLE QUARTET with DAVID MURRAY:
Heres a rare chance to hear David Murray in a relaxed setting, caressing his big, lush, tenor sax sound. Thats just what Bobbys shimmering drums bring out here, ably abetted by Larry Willis mellow, soulful piano and Santi DeBrianos unshakable bass line. Cadence says gentle piano chords, soft bass lines, and quiet brush work never once bored me, never once made me switch to another track highly recommended! CD Review awarded it 4-Stars and Jazz Disc of the Year, runner-up. (#01332)
Performance **** Sound Quality ****
Drummer Bobby Battle's first date as leader is a winner on all counts. The Offering delivers superb music, superlative sonics, and superior production.
Battle's longest and most productive association (at least in terms of recording) was with the Arthur Blythe group. He also has worked with Don Pullen, Archie Shepp, and David Murray.
Battle, like many jazz percussionists today, uses the cymbals more than the drums themselves. He works the metal masterfully, keeping a precise yet swinging beat beneath a wash of shimmering timbres and colors. Then he takes a solo, he reverts to more actual drumming, but you can tell that he can hardly wait to switch his attention back to the Zildjians.
Battle's colleagues on this session are Larry Willis at the piano, bassist Santi Debriano, and tenor sax giant David Murray. Murray, in particular, blossoms in this company. His playing is more relaxed and freely melodic than on many of his own recordings. Perhaps having no responsibilities aside from showing up and playing felt good for a change.
Murray plays on four of the six pieces in the program. The opening Ballad for Frederick, a Willis composition dedicated to the memory of drummer Freddie Waits, is Murray's tour de force. His economical eloquence here communicates so clearly and so fully that the composer's own solo is anticlimactic. Murray takes over Jitterbug Waltz almost as fully, but leaves more room for his colleagues' statements on Monk's I Mean You and bassist Santi Debriano's Jazz Laughter.
There are two trio pieces on the disc: the title tune, written by Debriano, and To Wisdom, the Prize, penned by Willis. Wisdom has a Latin-bossa beat behind an airy melody that Willis harmonizes warmly. The Offering is more of a bass figure than a melody. Its sparseness is its strength and it inspires the trio to turn out a performance of impressive variety and invention.
Engineer and producer Pierre M. Sprey uses no mixing board, filtering, compression, equalization, noise reduction, multitracking, or overdubbing. There are further specifications, but they all tend to support the "less is more" rule for engineering natural sounding recordings.
The packaging doesn't follow that rule. It includes an unusually thick printed insert that provides a biographical sketch and clear photo of each performer as well as a descriptive essay on the music and the recording session.
Some readers may recognize Battle as the drummer in Arthur Blythe's band that recorded several LPS for CBS in the ï80's. He's been around the New York jazz scene since he moved from Detroit in 1968 to gig with Roland Kirk and Pharaoh Sanders. He held the drum chair with Don Pullen for several of his mid-70's efforts on Black Saint.
I'm not so sure of that information will prepare you for his debut recording. The Offering is a wonderful date, in that the quartet (trio on To Wisdom... and the title song) plays this music in a very challenging, exciting, but often low-key manner. The disc opens with pianist Willis's tribute to the fine percussionist, Freddie Waits, who had died shortly before these sessions. For those of you who only think of David Murray as a monster blower, his ballad work is an eyeopener. He caresses each note, holds many of them without vibrato, and keeps the piece from wandering away and being too maudlin. The background is simple - gentle piano chords, soft bass lines, and quiet brush work. After a poignant piano solo, Murray returns to repeat the theme and add a short, breathy, coda. Jitterbug Waltz is also given a gentle turn. One can really feel the waltz rhythms in the fine brush work and lilting bass lines.
Murray's solo is a little looser, with some of his lines heading up to the higher registers of the tenor, but he retains his appealing bluesy tone. The rhythm catches fire during the tenor solo, Battle accentuating Murray's playing with his strong snare work. Willis gets a little Monk-like in the middle of his solo, throwing in several dissonant chords and shards of melody. Battle's solo never loses the bounce of the song's rhythm - in fact, it's a very melodic drum turn. Speaking of Monk, I Mean You is given a boppish ride. I like the way Murray plays with the theme - little bits and pieces turn up in almost every phrase in the early part of his solo. Debriano's Jazz Laughter has a thorny theme that the band executes with aplomb. Willis gets the first solo - he is supported by Battle's insistent snare and splashy cymbals. Murray teases the listener by starting to go "out" in his first solo chorus but he sticks to the middle register, playfully winding his phrases around the active rhythm section. The bass solo is, also, quite playful, bouncing along with Battle's jump-rhythms.
There are two long trio cuts. Larry Willis contributes To Wisdom, The Prize. The song has a Horace Silver feel in the rhythm (Song For My Father) plus I hear hints of Maiden Voyage in the chordal structure. The trio does not rush the music. Willis builds his solo effectively, playing single-note runs that build in length and intensity. The bass solo ... is both percussive and melodic. The pace picks up when Willis returns and the next three minutes really have a strong rhythmic feel until the long fade. The title song, a Debriano original, is the longest track (13:40). Battle sets a brisk pace with more good snare and cymbal work. Willis subtly works his way into the song - the theme has a maze-like feel and the pianist starts very cautiously before a descending line of chords signals the closing of the theme and the beginning of the solo section. The bassist often refers back to the 6-note figure that opens the piece - during the body of the solo, he lays down a ferocious "walking" line (it's more of a sprinting bass line). Debriano's solo is more muscular than melodic but he never abandons the rhythm. Everyone stops before the drum solo - it, too, retains the bounce of the original theme before Battle plays with the time, speeding it up and slowing it down, moving off the snare to his floor tom, but never becoming bombastic.
The Offering never once bored me, never once made me switch to another track, never once made me wish that there was another solo voice. Bobby Battle has done an excellent job of blending the right material with the right players. Some Murray fans may squawk because he doesn't but those listeners who avoid this because they think Murray is a constant screamer should pay attention. The setting and the songs combined to make him play in a more melodic style.