We Are the Drum would be worth its sticker price just for Lizz Wright sigh-singing the beautiful, melodically off-kilter ballad “This Song in Me.” But the third album by drummer Kendrick Scott’s quintet Oracle has 10 more lovely tracks, each built with a delicacy that imbues even the few uptempo tunes with gentleness.
“Synchrony,” for example, swings with such speed that it jitters. Pianist Taylor Eigsti plays a half-time intro that tempers (but doesn’t slow) Scott and bassist Joe Sanders; alto saxophonist John Ellis and guitarist Mike Moreno play the melody at regular tempo, but with a ruminative sweetness that offers just a hint of poignancy. The first 80 seconds of “Never Catch Me” are a chopsy solo from the leader that underlines the unexpected pathos of the tune-especially in Eigsti’s runaway solo.
Elsewhere, balladry and subtlety rule the day, and with no less tenderness. Ellis’ “Make Believe” gets kid-gloves treatment in the inquisitive solos by the composer, Moreno and Sanders. Moreno’s “Lotus” rarely moves above a quiet thrum, and two versions of Scott’s “Touched by an Angel” (for the band and for solo piano) are heartbreaking in their tranquility. “We Are the Drum” is midtempo, but with a stirring long-note theme and bass clarinet solo introspections that soften it. Even Scott’s intense snare and cymbal fills here become momentary bouts of passion.
That last strategy actually permeates the album. Scott gets low-key funk moving under a ponderous Moreno solo in “Mantra,” and a fairly energetic waltz under Ellis’ tenor on “Milton”; in both cases the rhythms heighten the moodiness rather than bely it. Plenty of drummers can play sensitively, but few can play explosively and make it feel sensitive. That’s one of Kendrick Scott’s considerable gifts as both drummer and leader.