Rudy Royston Trio generates seismic shift in progressive jazz
Rudy Royston - Topic

Drummer Rudy Royston and his Rise Of Orion trio stress jazz in the best way. Released two months ago on trumpeter Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf Records, Rise Of Orion’s 13 tracks jump around on seismic shifts as only a drumming bandleader can cook up.

Rise Of Orion features his own material on all but two of the tracks — “Dido’s Lament” by Henry Purcell and “Make A Smile For Me,” a Bill Withers tune.

The New York-based, first-call sideman’s known for beating the band as an accompanist for the heralded likes of Douglas, guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonists Branford Marsalis, Ravi Coltrane, J.D. Allen, and Rudresh Mahanthappa.

On his second major album as a bandleader, Royston’s grouped with bassist Yasushi Nakamura and Jon Irabagon, winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition. Both are in his trio for very good reasons.

“I chose Yasushi… and Jon… for this project, because of their understanding and style expressing music, their interpretations of emotional and human qualities,” Royston explained in a press release from Two for the Show Media. “In this music, Yasushi and Jon are bold, groovy, adventuresome and aggressive players. Whether expressing that style in gentle or robust ways, this trio is always candid and audacious.”

Candid and audacious describe the over-arching force of this sophomore album, a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Royston debut, 303, referencing the area code of Denver, where he grew up.

Rise Of Orion’s also a bit of a departure from the first album’s array of instrumentation — drums, two basses, two horns, piano, guitar, the whole nine yards — in a septet, earning him notice from DownBeat, All About Jazz, and CriticalJazz.com.

Nothing on this new album’s taken for granted. The trio makes mincemeat of its hooks, especially on Irabagon’s hypnotic war cry in “Kolbe…” (inspired by Royston’s LEGO-playing, melody-making son) — well into the progressive side of jazz.

Irabagon keeps his snakey hooks on repeat, but in the unraveling stage, in the title track, as Royston builds a bomb of percussive weight, splintering off for emphasis, and bassist Nakamura slides in measured warmth as a pianist might.

The progressive jazz trio attacks the music with gusto, each musician throwing his weight around. At times, there seems to be too many eruptions and not enough weight.

Then, Royston shows he can be Zen, slowing the whirlwind down to a near stop on his somber, spacious, poem of a cover of “Make A Smile For Me.”

Interestingly, his background drumming choices, together with Nakamura’s bass, evoke a traditional Japanese Shamisen string and Taiko drum vibe, as Irabagon squeezes high notes out of his sax in a definite Americanized genre somewhere between post-bop and smooth jazz.

In this piece, the sax, drums, and bass lay out distinctive narratives as might be displayed on a three-fold art-and-word haiku, of the ancient and the new.

“Sister Mother Clara” also takes a break from the restless activity of covering every bit of ground, in favor of focusing on a few pertinent matters from the shadows of things, the spirit of the physicality, the feeling a person imbues to a given situation or blessing.

In this case, it’s personal, because “Sister Mother Clara” is none other than Royston’s mother, a “beautiful, gentle, humble,” strong soul the trio captures impeccably.

Nakamura’s almost dancing with Irabagon here — string to metal as the saxophonist relentlessly pursues the enchantment of the music this subject stirs up, her aural frequency.

The trio “is designed to address events within, the dimension of activity just beneath our exterior façade. The music speaks to our humanness, our emotions, small qualities inside the milieu of the larger picture. The compositions themselves are written and named so to pay tribute to indwelling qualities that are innate to us as human beings,” Royston added.