New York Nowhere
With what could be the best album title in this pandemic era, drummer-composer Reggie Quinerly is instead not speaking so much about the present state of NYC but bidding goodbye to what was his home after 21 years. He and his family relocated to Los Angeles last fall so on this, his fourth album, he is reflecting on what the city meant to him as he leads a strong quintet. He says, “You’re surrounded by eight million people, but everybody has their own story, and everybody’s living their own life with a very singular focus. So even in the midst of all these people, you’re kin of completely alone. It’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”
That statement would seem to imply and album of reflective ballads or melancholy soundscapes, but this quintet swings hard, courses through inspired, wonderful melodies and carries through with close interplay because Quinerly chose them carefully. Pianist John Chin and trumpeter Antoine Dye are longtime friends. Saxophonist John Ellis and Dye also share a close friendship. Bassist Sean Conly is probably the musician that Chin has played with the most, for over twenty years. This familiarity with each other’s playing leads both to the nuances Quinerly was seeking and to the vigorous interplay. Quinerly also brough in his longtime friend, trombonist Willie Applewhite to arrange three of the tunes. And, as a new experience for Quinerly, they all recorded live in one room, no siloed booths with headphones as is usually the case.
The opener “Reflections on the Hudson” is a rather remarkable blend of introspection and swing, as Quinlerly, after confirming his move to the West Coast, spent many a day crossing the Hudson to Ellis Island, taking in both the skyline of the city and imagining what it must have been like for immigrants who first landed there. “Dreaming in Place,” is a wonderful ballad, so named in a socially distanced gig which served as a rehearsal for this album. At that time, he did not have a title for the tune and asked the audience what it conjured up. Someone shouted out “dream” and another “space,” hence the title. All have solos, with Chin and Conly especially standing out.
Quinerly originally hails from Houston, TX so has always been amused somehow by the different pronunciation of NYC’s Houston Street, an area where he had many gigs. So, “Somewhere on Houston” swings with a cheerful, upbeat vibe. In a similar vein is the first rendition of “New York Nights” while its reprise, the closer, takes on a funky, Latin flavored hue. Quinerly’s short eight-bar theme is repurposed in different groves and tempos with Ellis on tenor delivering the imaginative solos.
The other two selections are not as natively related to the city. “Celso” is a tribute to Brazilian singer-guitarist Celso Fonseca with a sensuous lead from trumpeter Dye, while the play-on-words titled “Wine Cooler Heads Prevail” is modeled on a hard bop Horace Silver-like groove, the only tune where he takes a slightly extended solo. The album is a brisk 30 minutes of straight-ahead, unusually melodic jazz, leaving us wanting more. Quinerly’s contributions are strong and that’s where his focus is, choosing not to call an undue amount of attention to his drumming but giving his stellar bandmates plenty of room and support as careful listening reveals a steady, propulsive work behind the kit. Quinerly promises to return soon and it will be intriguing to see how his new West Coast locale influences his sound.
More on Reggie Quinerly
Quinerly began drumming at the age of eight and began to listen to jazz in his early teens, often ostracized by classmates for listening to “weird music.” Eventually though he found kindred spirits when attending Houston’s famous High School of the Performing and Visual Arts where his classmates included Robert Glasper, Kendrick Scott, and Mike Moreno. Upon graduation he followed Glasper and Moreno to New York’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary music where he studied with Jimmy Cobb, Lewis Nash, and Kenny Washington. He completed his Master’s in Jazz Studies at Juilliard and delivered his first album in 2012, Music Inspired by Freedmantown. He followed with 2015’s Invictus and 2018’s Words to Love.
- Jim Hynes