Ari Hoenig: Lines of Oppression

Lloyd Sachs reviews drummer Ari Hoenig's unpredictable new release

At the heart of Ari Hoenig’s striking new album is a song sequence that defines this fiercely independent drummer’s outlook and speaks volumes on the relationship between rhythm and melody. The sequence begins, on Hoenig’s brief workout exercise, “Rhythm,” with an adrenalized exchange between the drummer and beatboxing Tigran Hamasyan. Without a break, they launch into Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” on which Hamasyan and Gilad Hekselman, on piano and electric guitar, respectively, skip and stretch past the classic melody over the leader’s unstoppable phrases.

Then, slowly and darkly, Hoenig introduces Bobby Timmons’ popular favorite “Moanin’,” the melody of which he proceeds to play on toms, framed by Hamasyan (who plays with Tunisian oud player Dhafer Youssef) and bassist Orlando Le Fleming (of Hoenig’s Punk Bop Trio). The baton is passed to Hekselman for a pointed solo, then to Hamasyan for a flurry of old-school locked chords and resounding changes, then back to Hoenig for a hypnotic conclusion. If you feel like you’ve been taken on a journey, it’s because you have.

Hoenig never settles into a predictable pattern, as drummer or composer. Time signatures shift on the head of an eighth note. The title track builds from its minimalistic, seesawing theme into keening fusion guitar number into jazz lullaby. Hamasyan puts a dramatic charge into “Higher to Hayastan,” one of several tunes boasting a Middle Eastern influence, with his rock-style attack. And on the breezy, reflective ballad “Wedding Song,” wordless vocals carry you in yet another stylistic direction.