Tom Cohen - Diggin' In, Digging
Chris Potter - Tenor/Soprano Sax
Madsen - Piano
Peter Herbert - Bass
Tom Cohen - Drums
2. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise
5. The Cat
7. Well You Needn’t
8. Not Even A Hat
9. Truth Is
Stranger Than Fiction
Total Time 66:19
unheralded, Tom Cohen has been a reliably swinging, rhythmically inventive
drummer on the Philly jazz scene for quite a while now. On his debut for
Double Time Records, he joins with two equally gifted but underappreciated
players from New York, bassist Peter Herbert and pianist Peter Madsen. Add
one ringer to the mix — acclaimed saxophonist-composer Chris Potter
— and the results are scintillating. Their playing together on Diggin' In,
Digging Out is highly interactive and full of that sound of surprise that
is at the heart of good jazz.
Hooking up with the two Peters
was a stroke of serendipity that paid off for the Philly-based drummer. As
he explains, "I'd known Peter Madsen for a while but we hardly worked
together. We maybe did two gigs together over the past seven years or so.
But I happened to catch him after a gig late one night at a local club in
Philly and was completely delighted by his playing. I managed to book a
gig a month later and invited both Peter Madsen and Peter Herbert to come
out from New York for it. Peter Herbert I had known from playing with him
at (now defunct) Visiones in New York and we worked together occasionally
over the years. That first gig together in Philly went so well that I
decided I had to document our chemistry together as a trio."
After booking a date at The Studio in New York City, he
invited saxophonist Chris Potter to play on four tunes. "Chris is always
fully entertaining," says Cohen. "He's one of the only players who, from
passage to passage or from phrase to phrase, never seems to repeat
himself. He's just always full of delight and surprise. I think he's one
of the best tenor players under the age of 40 out there right now."
The entire session — all nine tunes — went down nice and
smoothly in just four and a half hours. Cohen had taken this same kind of
intuitive approach in the studio on his first release as a leader, a 1997
trio date with pianist Ron Thompson and bassist Mike Richmond for Cadence
Records. But he takes it up a notch with his adventurous crew on Diggin'
In, Digging Out.
The album opens on a conversational note
with Cohen and Chris Potter exchanging and intertwining phrases on a
freewheeling intro that gradually settles into Miles Davis' "Solar,"
though the quartet merely alludes to the changes at first, eventually
working its way into that familiar melody. Pianist Peter Madsen, a
standout talent well deserving of wider recognition, picks up on the
daring nature of the opening Cohen-Potter duologue by vaguely shading the
tune while feeding the band subversive chord voicings to further tweak the
proceedings. Madsen continues in that adventurous spirit on a frantically
swinging trio rendition of "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise." A player of
great rhythmic ingenuity with fervently percussive tendencies at the
keyboard, Madsen's harmonic choices here are, once again, provocative, to
say the least. His presence on this session, or on any bandstand for that
matter, invariably takes the music through some intriguing twists and
"Peter Madsen is just so much fun to play with," says
Cohen of the pianist. "He's kind of mischievous, just always stirring it
up. He doesn't let things get too complacent, he gets things happening.
Guys like him and Chris Potter always make it easy for a drummer, if the
drummer has ears. Because they're just feeding you stuff to bounce off of.
I think of them as instigators that way. And those are the kind of people
I'm attracted to, playingwise. I've done gigs with people where it's more
straight down the middle, just swinging and feeling good. And that's cool.
But it's always more personally satisfying for me to get with those people
that are just extra provocative or even borderline controversial in the
way that they hear and play. And Peter is definitely like that. There's
something that he has that goes beyond your traditional straight ahead
Madsen's mischievous quality that Cohen referred
to comes across on his own composition, "The Cat." Again, the pianist's
left hand forcefully sculpts out the changes while his right hand flows
freely and assuredly through all the nooks and crannies of the keyboard.
Potter adapts a mercurial attitude on this Monkish number while Cohen
comments on the proceedings with some wry statements himself from behind
the kit before breaking loose for a melodic solo against Madsen's son-like
The pianist plays provocateur on a trio reading
of Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't." His approach on the
freewheeling intro here may strike listeners as owing more to Cecil Taylor
than Monk, and he carries that audacious spirit over into the piece
itself. Nearly two minutes into a group improv, they reveal the point of
reference as Madsen continues to take great liberties, both rhythmically
and harmonically, with Monk's familiar and idiosyncratic theme. As the
piece progresses, Cohen and Herbert respond in kind until it builds to a
whirlwind peak of forward momentum and visceral intent.
quartet's handling of Bird's "Anthropology," featuring Potter on tenor, is
perhaps the most conventional thing here, right down to the strict bebop
protocol of exchanging hip eights near the tag. But even that fairly
straightforward reading is not without its surprises.
Madsen's darkly fragile ballad "Desert Flower" is an
excellent showcase for Peter Herbert's extraordinary singing arco
technique. Cohen underscores the gentle, ECM-ish vibe with sensitive,
nearly subliminal brushwork and cymbal colors.
other tender offering, "Not Even A Hat," is a gorgeous old school,
alluring jazz ballad with poignant changes and graceful accompaniment.
Herbert, who nimbly shifts gears to double the melody when not playing the
root, speaks low and eloquently on his solo here. "Peter, by virtue of his
great time and that edge that he has in his playing, is a dream for any
drummer," says Cohen.
Cohen exudes a particularly forceful
touch and an interactive quality on Madsen's harmonically involved,
McCoy-ish composition "Chagall." With Potter blowing a blustery soprano
and the pianist mapping out the myriad of changes, the drummer
circumnavigates an implied beat by traversing the kit with melodic
abandon. Shades of his hero and mentor Tony Williams. "Tony was one of the
kings of interaction...maybe the greatest of all time," he says. "He had
such big ears and was so immediate with his responses. In addition to
being able to evolve his own kind of story as a tune unfolded, he was also
interacting at the same time."
Cohen sought Williams out for
lessons in 1972 and actually ended up spending a significant amount of
time with the great drummer. "I took half a dozen lessons with him," he
recalls, "and he was very generous. He didn't just give me an hour and
usher me out. We used to stay up there on the third floor at Frank
Ippolito's Drum Shop in New York City in the heat of the summer for like
two hours, just me asking questions and him explaining things. I was only
16 or 17 years old then, just a senior in high school. Tony was like a god
to me at the time. But for whatever reason, he was generous with the
information and was really nice to me."
A native New Yorker
who was raised in North Jersey, Cohen would go on to study philosophy at
George Washington University in Washington, D.C. while simultaneously
playing jazz in the Howard University big band. He left school in the mid
'70s and made his way to Philadelphia, where he joined a fusion band led
by saxophonist Odean Pope. He's been a player on the Philly jazz scene
there ever since.
Aside from the huge impact that Tony
Williams made on him as an aspiring drummer, Cohen also cites Elvin Jones,
Jack DeJohnette and especially Paul Motian as huge influences. "Those
intimate records that Motian did with Bill Evans really set me up for
wanting to be an interactive player and helped me with that whole idea of
listening on that level," he notes. "But I also enjoy playing with a
quintet. What's the difference? It still comes down to you interacting
with a soloist."
On Diggin' In, Digging Out, Cohen
demonstrates big ears and keen instincts alongside his like-minded
colleagues...instigators all. "I think if you put these same three
musicians together and played the same tunes with a different drummer, it
would have to be different, and radically different perhaps," he says. "I
make no pretense to be making any groundbreaking statements but hopefully
by virtue of the way I play, it allows music to flourish on a certain
level, whether it's a standard or somebody's composition. I hope my own
approach to the kit allows the players to be at their most open."
They are wide open indeed on this adventurous outing.— Bill
Bill Milkowski is a regular
contributor to Jazz Times and Modern Drummer, and is also the author
of "Rockers, Jazzbos & Visionaries" (Billboard
would like to express my deepest thanks to: the prolific Peter Madsen for
so generously contributing a few of his great tunes to this session, and
of course, for his wickedly provocative playing; Chris Potter and Peter
Herbert for their relentless imagination, intensity and great taste; Larry
DiTomasso for his ever energizing enthusiasm and astute observations;
Masuo and Takuhitsu for getting the sound so right, so "right away";
Mickey Roker for "Sweet Swingin" inspiration and wisdom filled
encouragement; and especially to my wife, Jill, and new born son Jack who
have made me - just by being with me - a better musician.