This review appears in the February 2012 issue of The New York City Jazz Record:
Big Drum/Small World
By David R. Adler
An album by the Metta Quintet always begins with a premise. The group’s 2002 debut, Going to Meet the Man, was inspired by James Baldwin’s short stories. Subway Songs (2006) evoked the bustle of New York mass transit and mourned those killed in the London tube bombings of the previous year. Big Drum/Small World continues with a statement on jazz globalism, featuring music by composers of disparate backgrounds: Marcus Strickland, Miguel Zenón, Omer Avital, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Yosvany Terry.
Drummer Hans Schuman, founder of the band’s nonprofit parent organization JazzReach, teams up with Strickland, bassist Joshua Ginsburg and two impressive newer recruits — pianist David Bryant and altoist Greg Ward — in a program that highlights the varied and distinctive voices of these guest composers. Strickland’s “From Here Onwards” leads off in a joyous and breezy mood, with saxophones in polyphony during the theme and swinging hard on the solos. Zenón’s “Sica” and Terry’s “Summer Relief” fit well together as complex, multi-themed works in a progressive Latin vein. Mahanthappa’s “Crabcakes,” introduced by Strickland and Ward in a devilish pas de deux, launches into brain-bending rhythmic repeats over fairly static harmony. Avital’s “BaKarem,” set up by Ginsberg’s passionate solo intro, brings forward the most accessible melody of the set: mournful but dancing, with a Middle Eastern tinge that prevails in much of Avital’s work.
The drawback is that Big Drum/Small World could be appropriately subtitled Short Album: it’s over in just 34 minutes. Yes, in an era of overly long CDs, concise is often a plus. But this recording feels somehow less complete, less of a journey, than the Metta Quintet’s previous two. And a quibble, perhaps, but the saxophones are overly reverbed and too severely panned (it’s especially apparent through headphones). The band sounds less live as a result. Although this is compelling music by highly gifted composers, and Metta deserves praise for bringing it to light and playing it so well, we’re left wanting more.