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Peter Erskine: Dr. Um

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Dr. Um offers journeyman drummer Peter Erskine an excuse to play funk and fusion and “all that [stuff] you’re so good at and people love while still being Mr. well-respected legit jazzman,” as related in the liner notes. That aptly summarizes the scope of this project, on which Erskine collaborates with keyboardist John Beasley (the two co-produced the album) and British electric bass virtuoso Janek Gwizdala. The three, joined by narrator Jack Fletcher, tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, guitarists Jeff Parker and Larry Koonse, and percussionist Aaron Serfaty, play electric jazz that’s musically fertile but not flashy, and handily demonstrates their gifts as groove-makers and improvisers.

Erskine and co. indeed sound relaxed and inspired, and not bound by allegiances to genre or album concept. Erskine contributes three of the 10 tunes, starting with “Hawaii Bathing Suit.” The tune, cut from the same cloth as his old band, Weather Report, has a spritely sax-keyboard unison head atop a simmering calypso-ish groove, and breaks into an open section for tenor, drums and congas, followed by Beasley’s twisty keys solo and a brash tenor outing on the outro. Erskine’s “Little Fun K” is, yeah, a little funky, its stair-stepping main theme, mellow keys and Parker’s liquid bluesy lines hinting at Steely Dan. And the leader’s sprawling “Northern Cross” benefits from some of the same elements, as well as the tones and textures once heard in Weather Report, and a brief passage of Erskine’s still-inventive rhythmic derring-do.

Erskine toasts Joe Zawinul, Weather Report’s cofounder, on the latter’s atmospheric, noir-ish “Bourges Buenos Aires” and “Speechless.” Beasley contributes the perky grooves and zigzagging fusion phrases of “Lost Page,” the laidback, soul-tinted “Okraphilia” and, unexpectedly, a stately Mahler arrangement. Koonse shines on Vince Mendoza’s “Sprite,” a lush ballad in the Metheny mold, and Beasley showcases his organ chops on Gary McFarland’s quirky “Sage Hands,” also featuring Sheppard. Tasty stuff.

Originally Published