Drummer Ari Hoenig’s second album as a leader impresses from beginning to end. Let’s start with the end (an admittedly odd thing to do in a CD review). The spiritual “This Little Light of Mine” is done entirely as a drum solo. Hoenig plays the melody on tuned toms and adds rhythmic touches with the cymbals. It’s a slice of wondrous beauty, and it’s the only track on which the fabulous French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc doesn’t threaten to upstage his leader.
As terrific and varied as Hoenig’s playing is, Pilc is just too talented to be relegated to traditional sideman status. He’s simply radiant on the original “Without Within” and the Rodgers & Hart tune “Falling in Love With Love,” and he invokes both Monk and Jarrett on Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology,” a rhythmically complex tune that becomes an energetic romp in the hands of Hoenig, Pilc and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller. Pilc employs lots of devices, from tinkling runs to fierce stabs. The mood alters dramatically for the ballad “Dark News,” Hoenig’s brush whoosh-whoosh-whooshing over Weidenmueller’s bowing.
Each performance, it seems, gives the trio an opportunity to deeply explore a simple melody, to excavate surprises from within its crevices. (The group, in fact, could be mistaken for Brad Mehldau’s trio on “Farewell.”) Alto saxophonist Will Vinson and tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwartz-Bart guest for one track each, but they seem almost unnecessary in the company of Messrs. Hoenig, Pilc and Weidenmueller.