Mike Clark's work with the Headhunters has emphasized his facility with funk beats, throbbing grooves and dance arrangements, but his latest release as a leader, Summertime, showcases another side of the drummer's musical personality. Whether covering show tunes, jazz standards or originals, Clark displays percussive subtlety and rhythmic versatility while heading an excellent group of equally accomplished musicians.
The core group features pianist Billy Childs, tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Jack Walrath, tenor/soprano saxophonist Chris Potter and bassists James Genus or Robert Hurst. Potter's been unfairly typed as an overly cerebral, introspective soloist, but sheds that label with animated, spirited solos on "Summertime," and "Dolores." Even his less energetic, more lyrical lines on "Angelica" are still passionately delivered, while his exchanges with Walrath on "Three Pawns" destroy the notion his sound lacks blues links or grit. Sheppard provides a crisp, crackling edge to "Fee Fi Fo Fum," enriching the tune's playful sensibility with a soulful solo, and he's even more forceful on "U.T."
Childs can be an elegant or demonstrative pianist, but his solos are always disciplined, fully developed and exciting. He's most expressive on Frank Perowsky's trio piece "For Duke," where he uses the added space and time to turn the song into a poignant tribute to a jazz master. However, his work on "Summertime" and Wayne Shorter's "Dolores" is no less arresting or harmonically surprising. Whether teaming with Genus or Hurst, there's no sense of conflict or stylistic clash. Genus plays on six of the nine selections and excels on the title track, "Dolores" and "Brujo." Hurst's supple accompaniment nicely fortifies both Clark and Childs' contributions on "U.T.," while another Shorter composition, "Prince of Darkness," boasts more excellent Clark drumming.
Indeed, this entire date is a revelation. Hopefully, Mike Clark will make more straightahead records in the future, without neglecting to keep the funk going in his other role with the Headhunters.