by Nick Stubblefield
Kendrick Scott Oracle played to an intimate but enthusiastic crowd at the Jazz Standard last Wednesday. Scott, a well-known drummer from various outfits around NYC, shined brightest at the helm of his own group as he dazzled with originals and covers at a show peppered with poignancy.
The night commenced with a sincere, unhurried moment of tenderness when Scott dedicated the group's first tune, “Home,” to his native Houston, the Texas city ravaged by Hurricane Harvey only days before. The warm resonance from the upright bass, the breath of the saxophone, the crisp, twinkling highs on the piano, and the smooth phrasing of the jazz guitar enveloped the audience in a sonic hug. These clearly weren't guys who'd met that evening shedding scales at your local jazz jam – these were guys who had meticulously crafted the sound they wanted right from the group's inception. From a listener's perspective, that's tremendously rewarding. The opener was filled with modern, highly-accessible harmonies. While lead melodic instruments held long notes, Scott kept an insistent momentum, delicate but with confident rhythmic patterns underneath.
Up next, a fast swing piece composed by trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. It was fun, filled to the brim with percussive punctuation, and a showcase for the group's versatility. It was also the only straight-ahead swing tune of the night. That gave way to “Apollo,” a rich and lush composition in the group's signature style – clear, simple melodies atop frenetic rhythmic undercurrents.
The set reached another emotional high when Scott played a dynamic drum solo, underscored by Barack Obama's speech, played off his laptop, addressing police brutality and mass incarceration. With carefully placed rim shots and accents, Scott underlined the most important and heartrending moments in the speech.
Pianist Aaron Park's composition “Peaceful Warrior” was another highlight of the night. Energized by a beautiful sonic melding of high-register piano with guitar, it was a delicate exploration of harmonic territories more familiar to classical or new “art music” listeners.
“Lotus,” a cut from the group's latest release We Are the Drum, laid down the hardest groove. It was repetitive at times, but seductive and hypnotic. Like many of Oracle's cuts, the melody was strong and sing-able, while padded out with modern harmonies.
On each tune, Kendrick Scott's dexterous drumming turned heads. But, his artistry lies in his ability to turn them without sacrificing the groove.