For a truly communicative jazz drummer -- which could be anyone from Art Blakey to Shelly Manne to Rashied Ali -- chops are only part of the story. There's also intuition; there's also the ability to put your own ego aside, listen attentively, and understand where your colleagues are coming from. Technically, Buddy Rich was arguably the greatest jazz drummer who ever lived, but he was no humanitarian; Blakey, on the other hand, was a tough yet compassionate coach who could be demanding and nurturing at the same time. The Painter, Ari Hoenig's first album as a leader, indicates that he is the sort of jazz drummer who is genuinely interested in what his colleagues have to say. This 72-minute CD, which was recorded live at Fat Cat (formerly Smalls) in New York City in 2003, gives listeners plenty of reason to believe that Hoenig is a real team player. Stylistically, The Painter is best described as advanced post-bop with mildly avant-garde expression at times. This album has an inside/outside perspective (more inside than outside), and whether Hoenig's sidemen (who include pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, bassist Matt Penman, and tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart) are communicating in a way that is considered inside or outside, the Philadelphia native has a real dialogue with them. That is true on Hoenig's own compositions (which dominate the CD) as well as Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" and a 16-minute examination of George Gershwin's "Summertime." Saying that Hoenig isn't motivated by a swollen, bloated, inflated ego isn't saying that he is totally selfless 100 percent of the time; in post-swing jazz, a certain amount of self-indulgence usually comes with the territory. But if Hoenig is willing to go off on some tangents, he also cares what Pilc and Schwarz-Bart have to say during their tangents -- and that spirit of camaraderie makes The Painter a memorable debut for the Philly-born drummer.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson