Herlin Riley has been a mainstay of Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra – and many of Wynton’s non-Lincoln solo albums too. He’s also been on recent recordings by Ahmad Jamal, and he carries the heart and soul of New Orleans in his bones and in his playing – as bandleader across a handful of recent solo albums and as hired hand. He’s one of the greats of recent years – behind the kit. He lives and breathes rhythm and he’s a composer too.
Here he offers up a handful or originals as well as taking on vaunted standards (You Don’t Know What Love Is, Stella By Starlight) and gems from Willie Dixon (Wang Dang Doodle) and Ellis Marsalis (Twelve’s It); always allowing plenty of space for his bandmembers to shine.
Pianist Emmett Cohen is a dazzling presence, maybe first felt to full effect on the standout solo across Be There When I Get There but once you start to notice him it’s impossible to stop. Cohen, Riley and bassist Russell Hall are a brilliant rhythm section here – and with Godwin Louis (alto saxophone) and Bruce Harris (trumpet) completing the line-up the feel is often adjacent to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in their 80s lineup – Wallace Rooney-era.
Borders Without Lines is kickass modern bop, the version of You Don’t Know What Love Is isn’t just left to waft, there’s major pulse here but still the iconic ballad feel. And on Wang Dang Doodle Riley showcases some groovy vocals too – he has chops galore across drums and voice.
This is just a thoroughly pleasant mainstream jazz release. Warm and full of charm. But never just ‘polite’. There’s some major playing here from some major players. There’s some great workouts (the title track, Wings and Roots) and the ballads are lush (Touched).
Riley has always played with taste and decorum – but there’s never been a lack of groove nor a loss to intensity. He’s a class act. And all of the things that first brought him to the dance are on display here and he moves his band along nicely allowing them to show smooth steps of their own.
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