Los Angeles-based drummer Jerry Kalaf would seem to be something of a musician’s musician. His name may not be as familiar to the average jazz fan in and around the country as some, but it’s plenty familiar to those who know fine jazz played with artistic integrity. Kalaf has a definitive approach to his music, and the result is a sound that is both intriguing and infective. And if it produces an album like his January release Welcome To Earth: Music For Trio and Sextet, it is an approach well taken.
Featuring eight original compositions, the album has the drummer working with two different trios and a sextet with completely different personnel. The only constant in the three ensembles is the drums of Kalaf and his original music. Kalaf points out in the liner notes that all the talent on the album, with one exception, “goes way back with me.” These are artists who buy into Kalaf’s vision, and you can hear it in the performance. Not only do they know their way around a song, they know their way around his songs. Nine different musicians, and Kalaf has them all working to realize his vision. Once you’ve got that in an ensemble, you’ve got a winner.
His smooth and melodic sound, Kalaf explains is not composed programmatically. He doesn’t look to create sonic portraits of non-musical stimuli. He thinks in terms of musical relationships—melody, harmony and rhythm. Now while it is arguable that all music, programmatic or abstract, is still necessarily concerned with melody, harmony, and rhythm, whatever the source, good music is good music. Welcome To Earth is filled with good music.
The album opens with the first of three sextet pieces, an interesting track with an otherworldly quality which he calls perhaps programmatically, “Ambiguity.” Both Doug Walter on alto sax and Barry Coates on guitar do yeoman solo work. Joining Kalaf, the rest of the sextet includes Jeff Colella on piano, Gabe Davis on bass, and on percussion, Scott Breadman. The other two sextet tracks are the Latin vibed “Syaya Samba” and a rhythmic cornucopia dedicated to guitarist Jim Hall, “This One’s For Jim.”
The first trio track, “The Jazz Answer” is a complex swinger with Leonard Thompson playing piano, Ryan McGillicuddy on bass and everybody getting a bit of solo spotlight. They also handle the title song and a waltz called “Not Knowing.” “See You Next Year,” another jazz waltz, and “Moving On,” which concludes the album, have Rich Ruttenberg taking over on piano and Domenic Genova on bass.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00MNMTRXY]