Drum Poetry

I saw a great set of Peter Bernstein, Doug Weiss, and Leon Parker at the Village Vanguard tonight. I was particularly curious to hear Parker, who had moved away from New York for a time and just came back a year or two ago. He was kind of everybody’s favorite enfant terrible when I first got to town in the early 90s before vanishing to Europe for over a decade.

Well, Parker hasn’t lost a step. I loved watching him play a set of standards with two other world-class musicians. It was a relaxed and beautiful vibe.

Parker doesn’t use a high-hat. Very odd. He also just has one cymbal, and usually plays with matched grip. Looking at his kit before hearing him play, it would be easy to suspect he simply isn’t a straight-ahead jazz drummer, but more of a world beat or European conceptual type.


It’s an idiosyncratic set up but Parker’s a real swinger of the old school. His beat is precise, essentially metronomic, but it also has the roundness of placement that separates the groovy from the stiff. Perhaps Ben Riley is a reference for that driving, singing ride cymbal of Leon Parker.

Nothing Parker plays is that unusual, really, but the orchestration of the kit is by necessity unique. Parker has also allowed in non-straight ahead influences: mallet techniques from concert percussion and groove music from the planet at large. He’s certainly got enough power to play with anybody but in this situation he was restrained and tasty. A lesson all the way around.

It’s really a blessing to have Parker back on the scene. Peter Bernstein and Doug Weiss both sounded just great as well. Tonight was a kind of trio tribute to Jim Hall, tomorrow they start with Sullivan Fortner for the rest of the week. Essential NYC jazz of the best kind.