Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism (Mack Avenue)

A review of the drummer's latest album featuring Emmet Cohen, Russell Hall, Godwin Louis, and Bruce Hall

Herlin Riley- Perpetual Optimism
The cover of Perpetual Optimism by Herlin Riley

New Orleans-based drummer Herlin Riley may be best known for his 10-year stint with Wynton Marsalis, during which he often held down a traditional groove with immaculate timing and a raw, sometimes rowdy pulse. A master then and now, Riley has only gotten better, if that’s possible.

“Snap Crackle” may be Roy Haynes’ nickname, but Riley steals some of Haynes’ thunder on Perpetual Optimism, playing with immense fire, wit, and snap crackle-worthy dynamics. Despite his NOLA background, the compositions and performances on here can’t be pigeonholed: this is simply wonderful music, jazz of the highest order. Featuring an equally striking group of Emmet Cohen on piano, Russell Hall on bass, Godwin Louis on alto saxophone, and Bruce Harris on trumpet, Riley’s band rages on 12 tracks of high-flying improvisation.

Perpetual Optimism begins with fiery energy. Opener “Rush Hour” bounces kinetically over a second-line pulse with the accent on the backside eighth-note of each bar—Riley driving the pocket, the band handclapping the offbeats. “Be There When I Get There” raises the tempo and the pulse with Riley’s driving, four-to-the-bar rim clicks and the frontline’s blazing ensemble figures. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” provides a relaxing break, and the title track reignites the fire. Following his previous recordings Watch What You’re Doing, Cream of the Crescent, and New Direction, Riley’s Perpetual Optimism is infectious, engaging, and irresistible.

Preview, buy or download Perpetual Optimism on Amazon!

Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.