The Thousandth Scholar
The curiously titled The Thousandth Scholar is drummer/composer Reggie Quinerly’s fifth album as a leader. Known primarily for his straight-ahead chops, (last covered herein on his fond farewell to NYC, 2021’s New York Nowhere) Quinerly challenges himself with an Afro-Latin jazz offering, lending credence to the album title and this quote from the late Ahmad Jamal which leads off Quinerly’s liner notes, “I would like to be a scholar in whatever I do, a scholar is never finished, he is always seeking, and I am always seeking.” In those same liner notes Quinerly confesses to being both inspired and intimidated by Afro-Cuban rhythms and like most scholars, sought some help from an expert, pianist Manuel Valera (who among many other dazzling performances, was extraordinary on drummer Steve Smith’s Vital Information Time Flies and A Prayer for the Generations covered here in 2023 as well as in the trio with Leon Lee Dorsey and Mike Clark on 2021’s Freedom Jazz Dance). While Quinerly composed seven of the eight compositions and Valera the other, the pianist is the arranger throughout. Quinerly’s quartet of drums, percussion, bass, and piano is inspired by similar configuration in two of his favorite albums, Herbie Hancock’s 1963 Inventions and Dimensions and Jamal’s more recent 20212 Blue Moon. To round out the ensemble Quinerly tapped in-demand bassist Matt Brewer and native Colombian percussionist Samuel Torres.
The set does not always scream Latin jazz as in some cases the references are subtle as we’ll later describe but the opening song title “She That Steps in Bull’s Blood” is intriguing start to the album both in name and musically as it is rife with bubbling percussion and Valera’s aggressive Cuban stylings. Quinerly owes the title to his mom who claimed she only had boots in two colors, black and bull’s blood, a deep, dark red. Pardon the expression but the quartet takes this in high stepping form. Tempo slows for a more ethereal take on “Felipe Jacinto,” title owing to Salvador Dali’s two middle names as Quinerly, and his combo reflects some of the subject’s surrealism. Valera is especially animated in his solo. Torres leads off “Folk Song,” establishing a definitively Latin groove that’s maintained throughout in one of the most overtly Latin tracks that also include the mambo “Ray’s Tune” and “Skain’s Blues” which has arguably the most invigorating four-way interplay in the set.
Subtler Latin flair appears oddly enough in Valera’s ballad, “Invernal” and Quinerly’s syncopated “Children’s Song #10” where the clave beats and congas are set back less prominently from the thrust of the compositions. The steady waltz of “Sam from Brooklyn” only features Torres’ use of shakers as the clearly defining Latin element. Again, as is mostly true throughout, Valera takes an inspired flight on the ivories. The “Sam” in the title refers to Quinerly’s mentor, drums and percussion teacher Sam Dinkins. The other tributes are references to pianist Ray Bryant (“Ray’s Tune”) and Wynton Marsalis (“Skain’s Blues”). The quartet especially shines as mentioned on the latter’s intricate rhythm pattern, a superb example of Quinerly’s scholarly pursuit. Few would guess this is his first foray into Afro-Cuban fare.
- Jim Hynes
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