Craig Wuepper

The Returnsman

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Jazz ensembles headed by drummers hardly ever gain the prominence they deserve, the most notable exception being Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. But that was the College of Art from which some of the best young stars graduated. Despite the efforts of many talented drummers, that instrument is not usually considered anything beyond the keeper of time, the driver of rhythm, and foundation on which horns build their solos. There's little in Craig Wuepper's first album to change that perception. It's not likely he would have had do anything different if he were not the leader. But as such he at least has the prerogative of including his own compositions, and there are four of them here. Although he cites the styles of Philly Joe Jones and Elvin Jones among his influences, he is less noisy and intrusive than these two major modern drummers. While expressive, listen to his quirky solo on "The Best Thing for You"; he stays calm and steadfast in his approach to the skins and cymbals. Wuepper is very talented, but is not a banger. Wuepper has obtained the services of some young lions of jazz (some of whose manes are getting a little longer). With a generous 72 minutes of playing time allotted by Double Time, each has plenty of time to stretch out. One of the more intriguing offerings is "Fried Pies" that has as its dominant theme the bagpipe's rhum, rhum, rhum one hears in a Scottish march against which Wuepper drives his drums. The tenor of Eric Alexander, the alto of Mike Dirubbo, with Ryan Kisor on trumpet, are a swinging front line. Any album on which the piano of Mike LeDonne appears is by definition made better. This is good, strong bop and post-bop playing and is recommended.

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