Ari Hoenig Punk Bop: Live at Smalls

Drummer Ari Hoenig’s regular Monday night gig at Smalls has enabled him to explore different ensembles, among them a trio with pianist Jean-Michel Pilc and bassist Francois Moutin, a quartet and other projects. Featured on this live recording is Punk Bop, with Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar, Will Vinson on alto saxophone, Tigran Hamasyan on piano and Danton Boller on bass. The set consists of material recorded on five of Hoenig’s previous albums, all penned by the leader. As implied by the group’s moniker, the music is steeped in the bebop tradition while adventurously pushing the envelope. Hoenig’s choice of musicians facilitates this vision; highly attentive and communicative, they are the perfect conduits for his complex, polyrhythmic writing, imbued with great depth and emotion.

The set opens with “Birdless,” off The Painter (2004), a vivid postbop vehicle for Hoenig’s muscular, melodic drumming, his exploratory bent and his penchant for inside/outside tension. The funk-rooted, rhythmically erratic “Green Spleen” (Bert’s Playground, 2008) is marked by the richness of Vinson’s horn, Kreisberg’s guitar effects and Hamasyan’s nod to the music of his Armenian roots. Enigmatic and ethereal, “Dark News” (Inversations, 2007) slows things down, eerie guitar enhancing its haunting melody. The closing “Ska,” first documented on a DVD recorded at Fat Cat, oscillates between punkish freneticism and dub-heavy beats.

Hoenig’s performances reveal his expressiveness, the physicality and explosiveness of his playing, and the constant interaction he maintains with his bandmates. And though this live recording lacks a visual component, these qualities are more than tangible.