The latest release from Jacob Melchior, It’s About Time, showcases the versatile artist’s myriad talents as a drummer, bandleader and arranger/ composer. Born in Denmark in 1970, Melchior (pronounced mel – cure) made his way to New York in the mid-nineties by way of Brazil, where he honed his rhythmic skills performing with some of that country’s finest players. Since his arrival in the jazz capital of the world Melchior has made a name for himself playing with the likes Frank Wess, Clark Terry, Eric Alexander, Harry Whitaker Sam Yahel and Joe Cohn in many of the city’s top jazz clubs, including, the Blue Note, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Iridium, Smoke and Smalls and recording a pair of cd’s as a leader, his 1997 Music Mecca debut Steppin’ Up, featuring Alexander and Yahel and 2003’s Little Man with Rob Bargad, as well as numerous other discs as a sideman.
On It’s About Time Melchior proves himself to be much more than simply a timekeeper content to sit in the background accenting soloists’ statements. His voice is an integral part of the trio’s sound (which clearly shows the influence the Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans units), often playing a melodic role and always controlling the group’s dynamic presence to maximize the music’s dramatic effect. The band - featuring bassist Hassan A. Shakur (formerly J.J. Wiggins, son the pianist Gerald Wiggins), well known for his work with Monty Alexander and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and pianist Tadataka “Tada” Unno, an award winner from Japan who is one of the finest newcomers on the New York scene - has been together for several years and It’s About Time is a worthy documentation of the kind of intuitively swinging empathy the group displays in its regular New York performances. The appearance of guest vocalist Frank Senior further spotlights Melchior’s superior skills as a tasteful accompanist that has made him a favorite of so many of the city’s singers.
The opening track of It’s About Time, is a clear indication of Melchior’s versatile talent. The medley of his own composition “Dancing Foo” and the Johnny Hodges Ellington band classic “Squatty Roo” has the drummer playing the melody over Shakur’s briskly walking bassline on the opening of the former, while he takes a swinging solo on the latter’s shout chorus as a part of his own composition, which places him clearly in the continuum of great melodic drummers such as two of his primary influences, Ed Thigpen and Billy Higgins. The whole group swings like mad on this one, extending the great piano trio tradition into the 21st Century.
Tadataka Unno’s upbeat arrangement for Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classic “Brigas Nunca Mais” shines a spotlight on Melchior’s percussive skills and his aplomb in playing the Brazilian rhythms he mastered during his extended stay in that most musical country. The beautiful bossa nova, played at a brighter than usual tempo has the leader’s bells propelling the group on the pretty melody and his parading drum kit dancing with the arranger’s piano on the potent baiaon interlude.
Shakur’s beautiful arco bass introduces the classic ballad “For All We Know,” a feature for guest vocalist Frank Senior. The veteran Harlem born blind vocalist is heard to excellent effect here with the trio laying down a lush soft cushion for the singer’s smooth baritone led by Melchior’s tasteful brushwork and Shakur’s lyrical bass.
The R&B classic “The Lady Of My Life,” made famous by Michael Jackson and Lou Rawls and previously covered by jazzmen Joe Chambers, Joe DeFrancesco and Stanley Jordan, opens up a medley that also includes the trio’s collaborative composition “My Baby” giving each of the group’s members an opportunity to show off their funky side. Skakur’s melodic pizzicato takes the lead on the former, soulfully singing the melody along with Melchior’s brushes over Unno’s bluesy chords before the threesome improvises their own take on the song’s romantic mood.
Melchior’s appealing arrangement of “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” combining in it a medley with his own “Love Is What” once again demonstrates his skills as a talented composer and insightful arranger, orchestrating the former over a medium tempo ostinato that breathes new life into the old standard, setting up a hard swinging middle section that allows the trio a spirited workout leading into Shakur’s lyrical bass solo and a tasty closing brush outing over a piano/bass vamp.
The trio’s collaborative arrangement of “Bird Of Beauty” finds the popular Stevie Wonder melody dancing over a joyous uptempo calypso groove that shows off Melchior’s infectious rhythmatism. Everyone gets a vigorous solo turn on this exemplary exercise in jazzing up a pop classic.
“Summer Fair” is another collaborative composition written by the leader with Unno and Shakur. Described by Melchior as a “medium tempo jitterbug” its melody was written in Rio de Janeiro in February 2010 (while the drummer was on tour there). Shakur’s solo cleverly quotes Johnny Mandel’s “Theme From Mash” and there’s an unusual trade of eights between the bassist and drummer before Unno takes things out with a bluesy chorus.
Unno’s alternately poignant to optimistic arrangement of “It Might As Well Be Spring” as a solo to medium tempo waltz is a telling tale of the pianist’s romantic side and maturity beyond his young years. Shakur and Melchior step into the background on this one, exhibiting their consummate skills as selfless accompanists.
The trio takes things out with a medley of Rodgers & Hart’s “Lover” classic standard and Shakur’s “Gerry’s Wig,” a tribute to his famous piano playing father.
The men pull out all the stops on this show stopping closer, throwing caution to wind as they burn through the popular changes of the jazz staple before settling into a soulful groove on the bassist’s piece to end a most enjoyable record date.
Jacob Melchior is a different drummer, one deeply immersed in the modern jazz tradition, from swing to bop, but also facile in the many popular and world music rhythms that have made their way into the music. Spotlighting his talent not with volume and flash, but with dynamics and taste, coming to the fore in all the right places, on It’s About Time he proves that now is the time for more people to hear just how good the music he makes is.