Andrew Munsey: High Tide (Birdwatcher)

A review of the drummer's debut album as a bandleader

Andrew Munsey, High Tide
The cover of High Tide by Andrew Munsey

Earlier this year, trumpeter, flugelhornist, and composer Steph Richards showed exactly why she’s a rising force in avant-garde jazz with Take the Neon Lights, a zigzagging mind-meld of fiery postbop and hard-charging swing that dizzied up the senses. As for the drummer who sprayed the frenzied clusters of beats that fueled that stellar effort? That was Andrew Munsey. Now it’s his turn in the spotlight, and Munsey has renewed the musical bond he shares with Richards yet again—this time employing her as a member of his own quintet.

High Tide, his bandleader debut, makes plain the many talents of this Brooklyn-based polymath: nimble drummer, ambitious composer and producer, and now steady-handed chief of an avant-jazz group of heavies that counts among its ranks Richards, tenor saxophonist Ochion Jewell, pianist Amino Belyamani (of Dawn of Midi) and double bassist Sam Minaie, who also appeared on Neon Lights.

Despite the presence of some of the same personnel who made Neon Lights fly gloriously off the rails, Munsey clearly possesses his own voice as he navigates a more straightforward, modern jazz-centric path. On High Tide’s 10 tracks, the feel is exquisite, the musicianship top-notch, and the pieces finely crafted and hook-filled with experimental flourishes, occasionally calling to mind the original material of the Bad Plus.

Munsey proves a composer with a few tricks up his sleeve; his tunes may sound simple, but dig deeper and complexities abound. His way with dense dynamics comes to life especially on the sweeping title track. Set in forward motion by Munsey’s off-kilter thumps, the mellifluous phrases of Richards and Jewell, and the propulsive piano stylings of Belyamani, “High Tide” is quite the shapeshifting opener to an impressive debut.

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