Label: Greenleaf Music, 2018
Personnel - John Ellis: bass clarinet, saxophone; Gary Versace: accordion; Hank Roberts: cello; Joe Martin: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.
Rudy Royston is a proficient American drummer who prefers an exemplary collective sound to any sort of ego demonstration. And that’s a rule he follows on Flatbed Buggy, the follow-up to the acclaimed Rise of Orion, a trio session recorded in 2006 with saxophonist Jon Irabagon and bassist Yasushi Nakamura.
For this new outing, dedicated to time and journeys, Royston assures a completely different sound aesthetic. Quirky chamber-folk sounds are brought by his estimable new quintet, featuring John Ellis on bass clarinet and sporadically on saxophone, Gary Versace on accordion, Hank Roberts on cello, and Joe Martin on bass.
“Soul Train”, the opening track, soon authenticates the tendency for melody-centric compositions with the accordion giving it a special, flattering touch. Behind the drum kit, the bandleader maintains a sober pose during improvisations from bass clarinet, which reinforces nostalgia, and double bass, actuating within a dark chamber vamp. However, he sets out an Afro groove that is permeated by the happy folk scintillations of Roberts’ bowed cello.
The title track stands at that threshold that separates old sepia memories and the more colorful hues of contemporary days. Versace’s comping becomes reggae-ish while Ellis improvises, and Royston enters in a sort of marching pulse without embracing it deliberately.
Although related thematically, “boy…Man” and “girl…Woman” are contrasting in the mood. The former is a spiritual with shifting tempos, luminous harmonic progressions, and empathetic melody, whereas the latter is a slow, bucolic exercise with minimalistic drum work and an acquiescent solo by Versace. Both songs rock for a little bit in its respective final sections and then fade out. The accordionist introduces a fine pop melody on “Hourglass” and is promptly supported by the rest of the crew. But the tune’s final destiny is the blues, here exposed with devotion and some playfulness as well.
Royston and his partners showed they are not averse to swing; and if they do it gently on “Twirler”, then they step up the tempo for the bop-infused “Bobblehead”, in which the drummer brings something more than just simple accompaniment. Another great swinging incursion happens on “The Roadside Flowers”, probably the most attractive piece on the album, with Ellis discharging large amounts of postbop energy on tenor sax. Royston penned this skillfully arranged composition with vivid past memories of a drive through wide-open space in Texas.
The journey ends with “I Guess It’s Time to Go”, the last of four interludes scattered through the album, which marks an unusual conclusion to an inviting set of songs.
More convex than angular, the jazz profiled by Royston has a strong empathic essence and transmits an exceptional, personal charisma.
01 - Soul Train ► 04 - boy…Man ► 09 - The Roadside Flowers