The first version of the marvelous drummer Louis Hayes’ Jazz Communicators was only together a short time (1967-68), but that unit included two legendary players in tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. The latest edition’s pedigree doesn’t quite equal that of its predecessor, though the roster does include such accomplished musicians as tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and bassist Santi Debriano. Of course Hayes is the dominant figure, and he’s also on a select list of jazz’s most exciting, imaginative drummers. Though his array of session credits and band memberships (Yusef Lateef, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Oscar Peterson) is extensive and impressive, Hayes isn’t exactly ready for retirement. His dynamic personality is a major reason why the Jazz Communicators’ latest effort is mostly a strong one.
Whether it’s his stunning solo in the early section of “Curtain Call,” or the way he accelerates and drives the band on “Same Page” and the title track, Hayes’ leadership mirrors the way Art Blakey powered countless Messengers editions. In fact, the title track has the identical bounce, spirited solo exchanges and crisp, crackling drumming that was the key component of the best Jazz Messengers material. “Bolivia” and a solid version of “Soul Eyes” are other noteworthy tracks, and Nelson’s most assertive playing arrives on “Same Page” and “This Is New.” Burton is an animated stylist, very passionate on “Nothing Better to Do” and “This Is New.”
The only problematic piece is the cover of “Say a Little Prayer.” The lyrics were ideal for signature vocal versions by Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, among others, but the structure and arrangement don’t hold up through this overly long group rendition, even with Burton and Nelson doing their best to create some fire during extended solos.
But that exception aside, Louis Hayes’ latest incarnation of his Jazz Communicators has delivered a worthwhile session. Lou’s Idea even indicates that this version of the group could evolve into a band as vital as the vintage edition.