Jerome Jennings – The Beast

Jerome Jennings – The Beast (Iola)

As a drummer for such high-profile leaders as Sonny Rollins, Hank Jones, and Christian McBride, Jerome Jennings spent more than a decade honing his craft before striking out on his own. So it’s little surprise that on his debut as a leader, Jennings displays a strong facility in both traditional and contemporary contexts.

Jennings’ respect for tradition is obvious. There’s the soulful shuffle groove of “Love the Drums,” a straightforward reading of Ben Webster’s “Did You Call Her Today” and a fiery take on Freddie Hubbard’s “The Core.” All the performances are engaging, with vibrant front-line work from tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley and trombonist Dion Tucker. But if those pieces stick closely to the post-bop script, there’s one cover that’s out of left field.

By now everyone’s gotten used to jazz musicians covering Radiohead and Joni Mitchell. But Jennings ups the ante with an irony-free take on New Edition’s “Cool It Now,” transforming a piece of bubblegum R&B into a gently swinging tune infused with a dose of melancholy. Sean Jones’ warm, serpentine lines on flugelhorn blend like watercolors with Wiley and Tucker. Even the segue into a Caribbean groove at the conclusion somehow seems inevitable.

Still, it’s on the originals that Jennings shines brightest. He displays sly humor on “Ice Cream Dreams,” which takes the music from the Mister Softee ice cream trucks as its foundation. The ballad “Cammy’s Smile” is the most harmonically rich piece on the album, while “New Beginnings” reflects the tension between hope and reality. The track’s gentle, luminous theme acts in contrast to the recorded excerpts from actor Jesse Williams’ call-to-consciousness speech at the 2016 BET Awards.

Let’s hope that as Jennings grows more comfortable in the leading role, we’ll hear more of his own compelling compositional voice.

John Frederick Moore

For more information, go to http://www.jeromejennings.com/

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