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Unriel ****

Riel, the Great Dane of European jazz drummers, joins the realm of the New York neo-bop crowd for his fourth disc as a leader. Tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, bassist Eddie Gomez, and either guitarist Mike Stern or pianist Niels Lan Doky, are more than equal partners, while Michael Brecker joins Gonz on the front line for two tracks. Riel is an exceptional timekeeper and unique in that he is able to create improvisations within a steady rhythmic framework that is intense and frenetic. Most of these tunes boast an easy, effortless swing, but it's the bop within that sets them apart. Over a ten-minute span, "Channeling" spins a dark caste funneled into an easy swing, with patented solos from Gomez and Stern, while "Invisible Light" is a beautiful "Naima"-like ballad. Other Gonz items feature Brecker in unison for the stealth "Gecko Plex," and a highlight ("On Again, Off Again") with contrary harmonic lines on the head in a series of two-note phrases strung together like Christmas lights with staggered blinks. These latter two pieces epitomize the creative neo-bop sound of the late 1990s. Also in this idiom is the title track, written by pianist Lan Doky, whose short shrift earlier in the CD is made up for on this exciting cut, with tenor and bass lines played together leading to a harder swing and some virtuosic moments from Riel, Gonz, and Gomez. Bergonzi wrote the morosely titled "He's Dead Too," a cat and mouse melody with implied samba and Stern's grizzly guitar licks. Gomez contributed "Amethyst," a tender ballad with Bergonzi waxing poetic; the lone standard "Moment's Notice" gives further beef to the contention that John Coltrane is the number one figurehead in this contemporary jazz movement. It's clear these are experts in their field, and Riel is comfortably in their league. Further evidence is included in an extensive, perhaps complete, amazing discography printed in the booklet of this CD. It's proof positive that Europe has at least one precious percussive jazz commodity America lacks.
Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide

Top floor, please