With one very obvious exception, all the tracks on Riptide flow together without a break, often making it hard to distinguish if a mood shift comes in the middle of a piece or if it cues the next composition. Tense, repetitive licks give way to murky drones or moments where all five musicians seem to be improvising independently. But even at its busiest, the music sustains its focus and indicates that Gerry Hemingway’s writing can stand side-by-side with his recorded history as a wild, propulsive drummer.
Longtime collaborators Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone) and Kermit Driscoll (alternating acoustic bass and electric bass guitar) join Hemingway, along with guitarist Terrence McManus and Oscar Noriega, the latter of whom adds a piquant texture to the music on clarinet, bass clarinet and alto saxophone. The leader blows some murky harmonica to unwrap “Gitar,” a 12-minute piece that builds up from this swampy sound into a spare spotlight for Eskelin’s dynamic vocabulary. This contrasts with “Meddle Music,” a shorter piece which McManus shapes into a strong slab of overdriven psych-rock. The minute-long gap between the last two tracks was a wise choice since they’re similar and represent a big departure from the program. “Backabacka” finds the drummer playing a straight 4/4 African kwela groove—which resembles ska thanks to the off-beat horn riff—but drags on just a little too long. “Chicken Blood” is also repetitive, but has a bit more variety with its parallel guitar and horn melodies. Somehow Hemingway makes these contrasts, and the false ending, make sense in the context of this strong release.