If veteran drummer, arranger, and composer Phil Haynes is busy tallying lucky stars these days, it’s easy to hear why, thanks to a pair of simultaneously released recordings that reveal the breadth of his talents and good fortune. In some ways, the albums couldn’t be more different. 60/69 My Favorite Things is an imaginative, larkish, hook-laden double-CD ’60s retrospective featuring Haynes’ Free Country quartet, with Hank Roberts on cello and vocals, Jim Yanda on guitar, and Drew Gress on bass. Settings for Three, on the other hand, is neither nostalgic nor pop-slanted. Instead, it finds Haynes in improv mode, recharging his audacious No Fast Food trio, featuring Gress and saxophonist/flutist Dave Liebman, in an often kinetic and always compelling studio session.
Haynes’ “settings” are at once sparse and challenging. Even though his previous work with Gress and Liebman should provide listeners with sufficient preparation for No Fast Food’s highly intuitive level of play, the group can still startle at times, especially when Liebman is spotlighted, which is frequently the case. Although he consistently conjures a sense of primal spirituality on soprano and flute, his finest moments come when he’s more animated or emphatic, whether surfing choppy rhythmic waves on the Wayne Shorter-inspired “Longer Shorter,” heightening the rhythm section’s uproarious funk on the aptly titled “Whack Whap,” or augmenting Haynes’ delightful clatter and swing with plenty of soulful swagger on “Blue Dop.” And speaking of soul, Gress’ deeply resonating arco performance on “String Theory,” an album highlight, quickly proves haunting.