Patrick Brennan

The Drum Is Honor Enough

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Patrick Brennan's erudite and fascinating liner notes reveal an artist who knows who he is and what he is doing. Reading the notes offers a glimpse into the foundations for each of his compositions and an inkling into his particular creative process generally. Among his insights are that "...composition is really just a slower species of improvisation ... that reconsider[s], redefine[s], and renew[s] all of the musical elements" and that it can "...help to stave off cliché, intensify ensemble concentration, and raise the level of improvisation from a solo/ individualist orientation to a more comprehensive and inclusive one." The pieces on this album, all of which Brennan composed, reflect this philosophy, beginning with the opening "Hot Red," a quirky and difficult piece (that drags a bit on the vamp) with riveting drum work, in which the roles of the improvisers and the composer are sometimes difficult to differentiate. Brennan shies from traditional structure, at least the head-solos-head edifice that has typically informed jazz. He also eschews common tempos and meters, keeping the musicians on their toes and his listeners focused. On a piece such as "Shadow Doin'," a slightly offbeat funky groove leads to a woozy, abstract solo by trombonist Steve Swell, who is eventually joined by sax and drums, and then whose solo morphs somewhat into a swinging pulse. This is followed by a harmonically limited, though technically impressive solo from Hillard Greene, after which the band reverts to the early groove that leads into (and is captured by) "Rough Hue." Each track has its pleasures, with "Drums Not Bombs," for example, altering phrases in characteristically unconventional ways, leading to a spectacular group improvisation. Steve Swell is an outstanding choice on trombone, one of the few on his instrument able to negotiate complex structures and build on them without compromising compositional integrity. Although Brennan's impressive writing overshadows his other skills, he proves himself an adequate saxophonist with a full-bodied tone, decent sense of swing, favoring jagged lines and off-kilter bursts of energy.

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