Jakob Dreyer (b), Jason Rigby (ts), Jon Cowherd (p), Jimmy MacBride (d)
Bar code: 8427328436519
When one gathers together masterful musicians and gives them colorful new material to play, magic can occur. Bassist Jakob Dreyer found that to be true when he teamed up with tenor-saxophonist Jason Rigby, pianist John Cowherd, and drummer Jimmy MacBride. Despite the fact that they were performing an extended set of originals by Dreyer, it only took the quartet two days to record 17 songs. Eight numbers were released on Songs, Hymns and Ballads Vol. 1, and now the second release has the other nine.
As is obvious from the opening selection of Vol. 2, “Neuland,” Dreyer’s songs are quite original and are never just new melodies tacked onto the chord changes of familiar standards. They feature moody themes and complex harmonies that challenge the musicians but at the same time are accessible to the general listener, particularly those who enjoy modern acoustic post-bop jazz. Dreyer considers Wayne Shorter to be a strong influence on his writing and one can hear touches of Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock of the 1960s in some of the music, but the results are never derivative or overly predictable.
“Neuland” has a mysterious theme and sets an ominous atmosphere that inspires inventive solos from Cowherd, Rigby (whose muscular tenor on this piece contains hints of Joe Henderson), and Dreyer. It sets a high standard for the performances that follow.
“Ypsilon” features an optimistic and singable melody that Rigby caresses along with an infectious groove from MacBride and Dreyer. Rigby digs into the song with his own sheets of sound while Cowherd and the leader create solos that are both searching and melodic. The thoughtful and quietly attractive “Twenty Twenty,” which was written in 2020, is a gentle look into a future that will hopefully be happier than the present. The modal piece “Mandalay” is a little reminiscent of the type of song that McCoy Tyner might have played. After Rigby sets the mood, Cowherd really cooks during his swinging spot.
Jakob Dreyer is showcased on “Tamara’s Waltz,” a song with a downward melody that is quite danceable. The bassist plays the relaxed theme along with the main solo although Cowherd also contributes a strong improvisation. “Conjunction” is an up-tempo romp on which Cowherd, Rigby and Dreyer make strong statements while being driven by MacBride. “Curfew” starts out as a laidback jazz waltz but becomes happier as it progresses. It is inspired by the calmness and serenity that is experienced when looking at the stars at night. Rigby comes up with some particularly inspired playing.
“Fat Cat,” which is named after the New York jazz club which has since closed, is a friendly and inviting piece with concise tenor, piano and bass improvisations that build upon its joyous atmosphere. Songs, Hymns and Ballads concludes quietly with the trio performing a thoughtful and somewhat somber waltz, “Beauchene.”
Jakob Dreyer, who was born and grew up in Germany, switched from the piano to bass when he was 14, knowing that a good bassist is never out of work for long. He developed quickly, fell in love with his instrument, and became attracted to the freedom and improvisation of jazz. After building up a strong reputation during his performances and recordings as a sideman, he moved to the United States where he earned a Master’s degree at City College of New York. Dreyer has been an important part of the New York jazz scene since graduating in 2015, working as a freelance bassist, arranger, and a music educator.
While he kept busy as a bassist during the pre-pandemic years, uplifting the music of others, in 2020 Dreyer realized that he had written a lot of songs that had never been recorded. Songs, Hymns and Ballads changes that situation and shows how skilled he is as a composer. “This is a compilation of my best compositions up to the present time in a variety of different styles and approaches,” says Dreyer. Recording two full CDs in two days is a major accomplishment, particularly when it involves new and fresh material. “I was very fortunate to get such skilled musicians for my recording debut. I have long enjoyed each of their playing and their musical personalities. They learned my songs pretty fast.”
He looks forward to the future with enthusiasm. “The music scene is finally getting back to normal and I am playing much more than I did last year. My goal is to keep on getting better as a bassist and a writer, connect with talented musicians, and continue expressing myself through my music.” Both volumes of Songs, Hymns and Ballads feature Jakob Dreyer at his best, as a bassist and a composer.
—Scott Yanow, jazz historian and author of 12 books including
"Life Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist"