When looking for an iconic drummer to compare with Chris Massey, the names that come up most often are Art Blakey and Jeff “Tain” Watts.” And even a casual listener to Whosoever, the sophomore effort of Chris Massey and the NJP, will see why. This is a musician with a knowledge and respect for tradition and the creative energy to take that tradition into the new age. The way to honor the past is not to try and imitate it; the way to honor the past is to make it a vital force for the present. Whosoever is an album that looks back at hard bop and gives it a voice for the 21st century.
NJP is fronted by the trumpet of Benny Benack lll and Adam Larson’s tenor sax. Joining Massey in the rhythm section are bassist Chis Talio and pianist Willerm Delisfort. It is a stellar group of talented artists that blossoms under Massey’s leadership. Their ensemble work is powerful and their solo efforts impressive. Working with a set of eight compositions that combine Massey originals with jazz standards, they manage to re-energize the best of past tradition.
They take a hoary old chestnut like “Old Devil Moon” and breathe new life in it. It is almost as though you’ve never heard it before, as you listen to Benack and Larson trade dynamic solo riffs on Massey’s swinging arrangement. It is a tour de force that is indicative of the musical aesthetic that dominates the album—virtuoso performance combined with explosive energy. John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is treated as a two minute romp for the sax and the drum. The set closes with a molten exploration of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Pedal Up,” which has deconstructive solo opportunities for everyone and ends in a quiet bass coda, a model of restrained understatement.
The Massey originals include the title song which features a powerful drum solo as well as some typically intricate work from the horns, and a final wail. “Warriors Three” begins with the solo bass and morphs into some elegant bop arabesques from the trumpet and the sax. “Onyx Guardian” adds some whimsical piano work from Delisfort, as well as a wailing, growling trumpet passage. Jeff Watts’ “Return of the Jitney Man” and Jon Cowherd’s “Crooked Creek” round out the album.
The excellent critical reaction to Vibrainium, Massey’s debut album as ensemble leader raised high expectations for his future projects, and Whosoever doesn’t disappoint.