The title of the latest album from Louis Hayes is, of course, a sideways reference to the global plague that felled many of his generation and kept the master drummer off the road for the first time in six decades. It’s also the name of a sprightly, color-shifting piece reminiscent of a time and place essential to his blossoming as a creative artist: the late ’50s in New York, when Hayes and the tune’s composer, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, lived in the same Brooklyn building. Begun with a brief back-and-forth between the drummer and his band, it works its way through a varied, mood-mixing theme before shifting into a solo for vibraphonist Steve Nelson, with tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton opening up on the extended outro.
On “Crisis,” as throughout, Hayes handily creates a foundation of effortlessly grooving, deeply rooted swing, in tandem with bassist Dezron Douglas, pianist David Hazeltine, and their bandmates. The leader shows off his chops as a composer on “Creeping Crud,” penned for his long-ago Horace Silver Quintet bandmate and fellow Detroiter, bassist Doug Watkins. Begun with a few seconds of trap-kit set-up, it’s a twisty bop melody, played in unison by Nelson and Burton, and offering solo space for everyone except Hayes. Two of the other players pitch in on composition duties with Nelson’s pretty, slow-churning “Alien Visitation,” featuring another exploratory vibes solo, and Douglas’ gently ambling “Oxygen.” Hayes salutes another trumpet-playing old friend, Lee Morgan, with the latter’s “Desert Moonlight,” highlighted by some provocative eights-trading.
Camille Thurman adds welcome contrast on a pair of tunes, applying her sophisticated, emotive vocals to the lush, melancholy “I’m Afraid the Masquerade is Over,” pouring it on for the finish, and injecting some well-placed scat lines into the bouncy “Where Are You?” Crisis? What crisis?