Artistic inspiration can come from anywhere at all--even from a deceased pet. On Bert's Playground, Ari Hoenig's second recording for Dreyfus Records and his fifth outing overall, the young master drummer starts from a simple appreciation of Bert, his one and only goldfish, the only fish in a tank full of snails." An ode to individuality, perhaps? An affirmation of the frolicsome spirit that Hoenig brings to every musical encounter? Bert's Playground is all of this and more, a vibrant collection of originals and creatively reworked standards that testifies to Hoenig's status as one of the most maniacally obsessive, spasmodic and musical drummers in jazz" (Jazz Times).
Joining Hoenig on this project are some of the finest musicians on the New York jazz scene: saxophonists Chris Potter and Will Vinson, guitarists Jonathan Kreisberg and Gilad Hekselman, bassists Matt Penman and Orlando LeFleming. Appearing in various combinations, all these players share a rich and extensive performing history with Hoenig, whether in the trenches of New York or on stages and bandstands abroad. I chose these musicians for their open-mindedness, and their ability to listen and react quickly to what they hear," Hoenig says.
Aesthetically, the sensibility underlying their music is well captured by the band moniker Hoenig uses when playing live: Punk Bop. I called the band 'Punk Bop' because it's rooted in the bebop tradition but is also a highly communicative unit capable of changing directions at any time," Hoenig continues. As a kid, I listened to a lot of punk and hardcore music as well as metal, reggae, funk, hip-hop, house and pop. I realized that improvising over simple chord structures can lead the music to the greatest peaks. I wanted to incorporate all my influences in this band, making it a true expression of who I am as a musician."
Hoenig gets right to business with a bright 7/8 rendition of John Coltrane's Moment's Notice," though the intro and bass solo are set in moderate 4/4 swing--one of those simple yet dramatic arranging details that makes Hoenig's music so absorbing. On Jerome Kern's The Way You Look Tonight," a fast trio feature with Hekselman, the famous sing- songy four-bar tag becomes fodder for rhythmic displacement and all sorts of razor- sharp, off-the-cuff interplay. Hekselman returns to close the album with Embraceable You," played short and sweet, with a deliciously unresolved ending. The two additional guitar trio cuts, both with Kreisberg, are Wayne Shorter's Fall," in 5/4, with meticulous attention paid to Shorter's one-of-a-kind harmonic concept; and the beautiful original For Tracy," which inspires evocative mallet textures from Hoenig on the drums and unique arpeggiated phrasing from Kreisberg's guitar.
Amazingly, Hoenig also ventures an unaccompanied reading of Monk's 'Round Midnight," accessing the melody's complex contour by manipulating his drum heads. Following in the footsteps of Max Roach and other masters, Hoenig is a serious proponent of solo drums as a complete musical space. He's made two unaccompanied drumset albums, Time Travels and The Life of a Day, and also featured these techniques on Anthropology" and WB Blues" from Inversations.
Hoenig's composi tional gift, in addition to For Tracy," is well represented by Seraphic," featuring layered acoustic and electric guitars, a through-composed form and acutely melodic playing by Vinson; the hard-swinging and intricate title track and Ramilson's Brew," effective showcases for Vinson and Potter respectively; and the funk-inflected Green Spleen," which Kreisberg flavors with snarling wah-wah effects. Taken together, these tracks paint a full picture of Hoenig's wide-ranging tastes, revealing his ability to forge a seamless bridge... designed to carry jazz's modern mainstream away from the ordinary and forward to new horizons" (All About Jazz).
A native of the historic jazz city of Philadelphia, Hoenig, in addition to his work as a bandleader, is one of the most sought-after sidemen of his generation. He has appeared on dozens of recordings and worked with a diverse spectrum of important artists, including guitarists Pat Martino, Wayne Krantz, Paul Bollenback and Kurt Rosenwinkel, saxophonists Joshua Redman and Chris Potter, harpist Edmar Castaneda, bassist/vocalist Richard Bona and more. He's developed deep musical relationships with pianists representing three generations of boundless jazz creativity: Kenny Werner, Dreyfus recording artist Jean-Michel Pilc and recent Monk competition winner Tigran Hamasyan.
With Bert's Playground, Hoenig takes another important step in his creative journey and advances the language of jazz in the process. As was recently stated by Philadelphia Weekly, he attacks his kit like a child does pots and pans, with limbs flailing, face contorted in delight. From this physical mayhem comes music of unsurpassed depth and control."