[Dixielandjazz] Herlin Riley, New Orleans Drummer, Bops Dixieland..

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 30 06:53:08 PDT 2006

Talking about playing Bop and switching to Dixieland, Herlin Riley, one of
the finest New Orleans groove drummers around, mixes New Orleans with Bop in
NYC. Flatted fifths in Royal Garden Blues? What's next. :-) VBG

Steve Barbone

New York Benchmark for New Orleans Drummer

By NATE CHINEN - June 30, 2006

"I've been coming to New York a long time," said the drummer Herlin Riley at
Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola on Tuesday night, "and this is the very first set of
the very first week of my being here as a leader."

The audience, peppered with friends of Jazz at Lincoln Center, applauded
this declaration with enthusiasm and perhaps a note of mild astonishment.
Since the late 1980's, when Mr. Riley assumed the drum chair in the Wynton
Marsalis Septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, he has managed
something like ubiquity in certain circles. Though he is no longer the
regular percussionist for either ensemble, he has earned an emeritus
eminence. His likeness emblazons a poster that can be found throughout
Frederick P. Rose Hall. (You probably would have passed one on your way up
to Dizzy's Club.)

So why hasn't Mr. Riley led his own group in New York? Perhaps because he
lives in New Orleans and usually travels at someone else's behest. It might
be because he's the sort of player more interested in dynamics than
logistics. Whatever the reason, it has nothing to do with his charismatic
authority, as he proved on Tuesday night.

Mr. Riley made his premiere in good company, with the tenor saxophonist and
clarinetist Victor Goines, the pianist Eric Reed and the bass player
Reginald Veal. It's the same personnel one might have expected to hear
behind Mr. Marsalis a decade ago.

So it made sense that the set was bracketed by New Orleans second-line
rhythm, the ebullient groove that Mr. Riley plays more definitively than
anyone else alive. It appeared first as a backbone to one of his originals,
"Watch What You're Doing," and later as the native cadence to a New Orleans
standard, "Royal Garden Blues."

Notably, both songs were infused with modern harmony and, during their solo
choruses, with a cruising sense of swing. On the first tune Mr. Reed
articulated hornlike lines with his right hand and modal accents with his
left. Mr. Goines, playing soprano saxophone on "Royal Garden Blues,"
followed a conservative reading of the melody with variations that gestured
toward bebop; for most of his solo he leaned on, or flirted with, the
flatted-fifth degree of the scale.

Mr. Goines fashioned a literate and more faithfully traditional clarinet
essay on Hoagy Carmichael's "Nearness of You." And he delivered a solid
tenor solo on "Cosa Nostra," a polyrhythmic piece by Mr. Reed.

But the evening's most riveting performer was Mr. Riley. He allowed himself
only one solo, a blur of cross-handed rolls and single-stroke fusillades
that capped off a song of his called "New York Walk." That was a hard bop
tune with a Northeastern disposition; still, "strut" might have been the
better word. 

Herlin Riley and Friends continue through Sunday at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola,
Frederick P. Rose Hall, 60th Street and Broadway, (212) 258-9595.

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list