IT APPEARS that US drummer and composer Ari Hoenig’s creativity isn’t confined to the stage and the recording studio. His mostly original music on this eighth release as leader, The Pauper & the Magician, is inspired by the improvised stories he tells to his two small children – specifically, a tale of “a powerful, dark sorcerer who, in a moment of weakness and boredom, passes on his book of evil magic to a pauper.”
Part of the New York scene for almost twenty years, Philadelphia-born Hoenig has contributed to the line-ups of Joshua Redman, Chris Potter and Mike Stern (to name but a few) and has appeared with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and Gerry Mulligan. His colleagues on this quintet recording are guitarist Gilad Hekselman, tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, pianist Shai Maestro and bassist Orlando le Fleming.
Hoenig’s musical storytelling here is dynamically potent, possessing a distinct aura of fable and mysticism characterised by his propulsive prog-tinged writing and the band’s colourful jazz improvisations; and the drummer’s own ornamented techniques impressively bind the multifarious elements together without dominating. Indeed, the album’s five ‘chapters’ (along with an affectionate, closing ‘goodnight kiss’ track) are spacious enough to slowly unravel their mysterious, shifting storylines. Thus, opening title track The Pauper & the Magician, at almost ten minutes’ duration, weaves a downward-spiralling motif, as if descending into an unknown kingdom, buoyed by mischievously-dancing tenor and piano, Hekselman’s subtle wah-wah rhythms and Hoenig’s perpetually intricate percussion.
I’ll Think About It‘s initial sprightliness conjures big-band swing, though all the while the adventure twists and turns through darker, searching passageways, only to be illuminated again by the strong daylight of rippling piano, jaunty sax-and-guitar riffs and the indubitable flair of Hoenig’s crisp execution. Central to these 46 minutes is the eastern-inflected drama of The Other, its edge-of-seat energy glinting with rapid jazz brilliance. Here, Shai Maestro’s effusive piano dances over the flamboyance of bass and drums as Hekselman and Pennicott share complex, whirling lines; and the relentless anthemic progression confirms the album’s folktale basis.
The particular echoic delicacy of Gilad Hekselman’s guitar style is to the fore in Lyric – a calming jazz interlude whose tender melody (redolent, at times, of Weather Report) is embellished by Pennicott’s tenor phrasing, yet also punctuated by snappy rhythmic flashes from Hoenig’s precise, multi-timbred battery; and Alana is similarly luxurious, Pennicott’s pellucid piano and the measured vibrato of Pennicott’s tenor providing an end-of-journey feel-good. And that ‘goodnight kiss’? Well, Jimmie Davis’ familiar You Are My Sunshine (which might otherwise feel incongruous) cheerily plays out amidst Hoenig’s softly-malleted kit and a generally jaunty jazz demeanour until ‘lights out’.
By turns dramatic and ambrosial, it’s to be hoped that Ari Hoenig might reveal further jazz chronicles of this calibre. Released on 26 February 2016 (in the UK and Ireland, through Lyte Records), The Pauper & the Magician is also available, as CD or download, via links at Ari Hoenig’s website.
Ari Hoenig drums
Gilad Hekselman guitar
Tivon Pennicott tenor saxophone
Shai Maestro piano
Orlando le Fleming bass
Lyte Records – LR036 (2016)