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One thing's certain: it was definitely worth the wait. Kermit Driscoll has been a remarkable bassist and inspired sideman for the last 30 years, but he's never released an album of his own. Reveille, a program of kaleidoscopic funk, experimental abstractions, and fetching intricacies, rectifies that. It is an achievement that lets the world know Driscoll now wears another hat as well: that of a cagey bandleader.
Reveille's star-studded quartet united for only a day, but it performs like a group that's worked together for ageswhich in some ways it indeed has. Driscoll and guitarist Bill Frisell are longtime partners. The pair met on the first day of classes at the Berklee College of Music during the mid-'70s. During that Boston stint, they also connected with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, the master percussionist who went on to share the stage with everyone from Sting to Frank Zappa to Jeff Beck. (The three played in a New England lounge band, and Driscoll says that somewhere there's a picture of them sporting their orange disco suits.) Rounding out the Reveille ensemble is pianist Kris Davis, an insightful improviser who's currently garnering critical acclaim on the New York jazz scene. Under Driscoll's guidance, this foursome connects on a deep level, making music that blends keenly individual approaches with a palpable sense of sharing.
There's not a better compliment I could possibly hear," says the 54-year-old bassist. We wanted to make sure we were playing together as a quartet, and I truly think that happened. Actually, we didn't work at all. We spent the day in the studio having a ball. Joking around, calling up old friends, and playing, playing, playing."
It was a health crisis that reunited Driscoll with his old pal Colaiuta. The bassist's near-fatal battle with Lyme disease in 2006 found them reconnecting after being separated for a number of years by the whirlwind of busy schedules. During Driscoll's worst days, the drummer would call and assure his friend that they were definitely going to play again." A year or so later, after an outpouring of good will that included a few benefit concerts, the bassist began to recover.
It was the energy and love of people," he says, and it was quite a lesson. Anything can happen. Vinnie had been so helpful. I definitely wanted to follow up on his offer to play and wanted it to be with Bill, like the old days. Problem is, those two are so busy, it took two years to grab one day when they both could do it."
Driscoll's been composing for decades, and Reveille's program is filled with tunes both ancient and fresh. The poignant Farm Life" goes back 20 years. In the hands of Frisell, its melody becomes a shimmering string of notes. 'Hekete,' named after the goddess of the crossroads, is a new piece that's truly a siren song. From the glistening intro to Davis' enchanting circular patterns to the bouncy swing that concludes the action, it demonstrates Driscoll's view of flexibility.
I don't compose all that much," he says, but for this record I had the luxury of choosing the things I really wanted. And listening to the results got me excited. I must have written two discs worth of tunes since we cut this albuma real hot streak."
The non-originals he chose also reveal something about his musical personality. Miles Davis' 'Great Expectations' is an aggressive nugget that everyone gets to rock out on. Big Fun was the first jazz record I got after leaving a session at Interlochen Arts Camp as a kid," he says. I also have this great memory of me and Bill and Joey Baron in a Paris taxi while 'Great Expectations' was playing. We just looked at each other and said 'Oh shit, listen to this.'" It's exact opposite, the trad twang tune 'Chicken Reel,' brings a different kind of frolic to the table. I set up a sheet with just the melody and said, 'Okay, let's play. We morph into other timesit's a bit of a joke, but it's fun."
Driscoll was completely taken with the way his bandmates addressed the variety of material. Colaiuta filled in drum parts that the composer's charts left wide open. The more you listen to this album, the more you'll hear his magic. I don't even know what the hell he's playing on 'Four Hearts.' It stays in time but moves around. Vinnie always has something like that going on. It's no surpriseback in college I watched him sight read Charles Ives scores."
Dedicated jazz fans know that Driscoll and Frisell have been frequent collaborators. The bassist was central to the guitarist's critically celebrated mid-80s trio, and Driscoll calls his friend a mentor. I really got fired up about the bass when I met Jaco Pastorious early on, but who's kidding who, Bill is my main influence. In fact, he has overly influenced me. He is a badass."
Driscoll met Davis at a rehearsal of John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble. They were playing the drummer's 'Foreign One,' and he found Davis' touch to be ballsy." He immediately set up an informal session in Brooklyn. Kris, Jeff Davis and I messed around together, and she would sometimes play just one note or stop playing completelyand I said 'Oh boy, this is the perfect pianist. I don't know anyone else who'd just take their hands off the piano. Kris is incredible on 'Hekete.' She speeds up, slows down, she knows exactly what not to play."
The same could be said for Driscoll. He uses both electric and acoustic instruments on Reveille, and from the eerie tones of 'Ire' to knotty grooves of 'Boomstatz,' he leaves plenty of open space around himanother reason that the band sounds so connected. I could have played a bit more," he concludes, but I'm so glad I didn't. It would have turned into some kind of bassist record, and god, we don't want that. This album is all about exchange and interaction. The way we worked together, the way John Guth mixed it with a couple of wrong notes left inI wanted to keep it pure. It all came together, and it sounds a lot better that waynothing but fun."