Big Drum/Small World
Music lovers of every stripe tend to resist recordings advertised as educational. (Who wants to listen to something because it’s good for us, as opposed to simply being good?) As such, Metta Quintet, the resident ensemble of JazzReach — a New York City-based nonprofit organization largely dedicated to educating young people about jazz — carries a special burden. The players must demonstrate that their work isn’t the equivalent of a homework assignment. On Big Drum/Small World, they do so more often than not.
No surprise that the album is organized around a theme given the combo’s previous offerings: 2002’s Going to Meet the Man, inspired by James Baldwin short stories, and 2006’s Subway Songs, a tribute to NYC’s rail transit system. However, the concept this time around — jazz globalism — isn’t applied in a heavy-handed way. Yes, each of the five songs was penned by a composer representing a different part of the world. But while the numbers occasionally nod to their creators’ homeland (particularly the Middle East-flavored “BaKarem,” penned by Israeli native Omer Avital), the emphasis is on the genre’s universality.
That’s especially true of Quintet member Marcus Strickland’s “From Here Onwards.” The tune’s a joyous romp, with the saxophones of Strickland and altoist Greg Ward chased by pianist David Bryant, bassist Joshua Ginsburg and drummer Hans Schuman (JazzReach’s founder and artistic director). “Sica,” by Puerto Rico’s Miguel Zenón, has a more danceable feel, with Ginsburg and Schuman ensuring the appropriate hip sway – a trick also turned on “Summer Relief,” from the repertoire of Cuba’s Yosvanny Terry. And if the frenetic “Crabcakes,” courtesy of Italian-born Rudresh Mahanthappa, isn’t as tight as it could be, that’s just fine in this context.
After all, if it was too perfect, we might feel that we were supposed to be learning something instead of enjoying ourselves.