This week, jazz bassist and composer Matthew Rybicki issues his debut album Driven, on which he leads a collective of highly skilled musicians. The 11 tunes include two covers, while the remaining nine are Rybicki originals. The goal, as stated by the bandleader, was to keep things swinging, “It’s a high priority for me to be thinking about the dance aspect first in playing our music.” The goal is achieved as Driven definitely has a wide variety of grooves.
“The Slow Stride” is a stylish kick-off, beginning the album with a nod to Oscar Pettiford. Freddie Hendrix contributes smooth trumpet leads while Gerald Clayton‘s piano explores the chilled out vibe. Rybicki steps forward for a questing solo, reminding everyone who’s leading the session. The tune is a wonderful introduction to his musical world. The tempo quickens for “Seventh Sun,” featuring only the trio of Rybicki with Clayton’s keys and Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums.
“A Mean Lean” relaxes the mood, with drummer Owens Jr. accenting the mellow groove perfectly. The track climaxes with some playful trading of fours between Owens and Rybicki. “Yellow Bird,” one of the non-originals, maintains the lighter feel. This time saxophonist Ron Blake is on board, playing the calypso melody on soprano. He switches to tenor for “Big Money and the Left Side,” bellowing the melody with a full, thick tone. The tune swings casually, with Rybicki adding a slippery solo near the end. Blake’s big tenor sound is back on the title tune, crisscrossing with Rybicki’s bass for a tasty duet.
Among the highlights of Driven is the slow blues of “Lowcountry Boil,” introduced by Rybicki alone, who doesn’t relinquish the spotlight for two-and-a-half minutes. His simmering solo gives way to some gorgeous piano work from Clayton, who allows the rhythm section to drive him to bluesy heights.
“Secret Love,” the other non-original, is played at a ridiculously brisk pace, with a fantastically kinetic drum solo from Owens. Saving the most adventurous tune for last, “Nouakchott” is a nine-minute world music exercise featuring percussionist Matthew Baranello and vocals from Selloane Nkehla.
Rybicki interacts with his sidemen (which also includes trombonist Michael Dease) with great musical charisma, all of whom were handpicked by the bassist for their versatility. Speaking on the direction he offered the players for the two-day session, Rybicki states, “I told the guys, ‘I don’t want to tell you what to play. I’m hiring you because I like what you do.”
Driven finds each musician adding a sly wit to their playing, an unpredictable element that suggests they were inspiring each other while having a great time. Matthew Rybicki proves himself to be a supremely generous bandleader, all while anchoring the tunes with authoritative bass lines.