Peter Erskine & The Dr. Um Band - On Call

Label: Fuzzy Music, 2018

Personnel - Bob Sheppard: saxophone; John Beasley: keyboards; Benjamin Shepherd: electric bass; Peter Erskine: drums.

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Consummate drummer Peter Erskine, a former Weather Report member, has always shown an inclination for electric jazz fusion. Commanding The Dr. Um Band with metrical depth and angular vision, he releases On Call, a new double album on his own music label, Fuzzy Music.

The disc one includes brand new material recorded in the studio whereas disc two encapsulates previously recorded tunes performed live in Occhiobello, Italy. All the members of the quartet - saxophonist Bob Sheppard, keyboardist John Beasley, and electric bassist Benjamin Shepherd - penned compositions for the studio session, which opens with Erskine’s “For The Time Being”. Initially enigmatic, the piece veers to a daring, dark-toned jazz funk, with the band keeping the groovy pose on Sheppard’s “Might As Well Be”, a crossover fantasy that salutes saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. The versatility of Beasley is perceptible through attractive attacks and strange sounds. The keyboardist contributes to the song lineup with a pair of compositions - “If So Then”, inspired by the Miles Davis Quintet, is boosted by an adventurous piano solo and exceptional collective interplay; “Silver Linings” is a respectful homage to Horace Silver whose borrowed moods adapt to the band’s style.

Penned by the bandleader, “Uncle Don” displays a ceremonious organ as the introduction and a scratching backbeat in an early stage. Afterward, the band places cool harmonic progressions on top of rock-steeped rhythms, having funky bass lines running along.

The live session, filled with enthusiasm and excitement, opens with a couple of tunes by Erskine: the cerebral, blues-based “Hipnotherapy” and the funk-inflected “Hawaii Bathing Suit”. The former thrives with woody bass grooves decorated with wha-wha effects and concordant drumming, while the latter is a playful avant fusion that captivates through gorgeous unisons, apt improvisations, and an effusive drumming with strong Latin accents. 

After the soaringly atmospheric first section, Henry Mancini’s “Dreamville” combines bossa nova rhythms with balladic tones, whose silky textures result from mixing light funk, smooth jazz, and malleable R&B elements. The tune was retrieved from the album Second Opinion (Fuzzy Music, 2016), just like “Eleven Eleven”, a frenetic steeplechase with rock-solid rhythmic passages and powerful wha-wha bass lines. Although not too temperamental, the soloists opt for dazzling, straightforward approaches to express their lines of thought. 

Erskine’s mutable “Northern Cross” is not a softer either, displaying influences of American music while bridging the worlds of funk, jazz, and rock. This could be a possible outcome of having Joshua Redman playing with Return To Forever. 

With the live recording surpassing the studio session, On Call sparks with tremendous rhythmic engagement as it shows Erskine’s productive modus operandi.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 (CD1) - If So Then ► 02 (CD2) - Hawaii Bathing Suit ► 04 (CD2) - Eleven Eleven