Drummer Ari Hoenig is well known to habitués of Smalls, the downtown NYC club that for many years has fostered young jazz talent away from the spotlight that shines on larger, higher-profile venues. Hoenig’s recordings on the club’s associated label have shown him to be a supremely gifted percussionist as well as a versatile composer/arranger. Bert’s Playground can only enhance that reputation, as Hoenig marshals his ever-more-refined skills to create an eclectic program of his original compositions and imaginative arrangements of tunes by Coltrane, Kern, Monk, Gershwin and Shorter.
Hoenig is joined by a first-rate band, including most notably the absurdly dexterous tenor saxophonist Chris Potter on three cuts. The band’s repertoire includes intricately conceived versions of “Moment’s Notice” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” which emphasize turn-on-a-dime metric twists and subversions of form. On the other end of the spectrum is Hoenig’s original composition, “Green Spleen,” a funky odd-time number on which the band unleashes the most passionate blowing of the session. Besides Potter, other soloists of note are guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, who is as capable a funkster as he is a bopper, and alto saxophonist Will Vinson, who acquits himself especially well on the post-boppish title track.