Drummer Rob Silverman released his own Drumology two months ago, an album that brought together jazz and rock drummers in primarily a jazz fusion vein. Now Silverman returns with a St. Louis-based trio, Rhythm City, featuring pianist Ptah Williams, and bassist Larry Kornfield for another mostly fusion inspired outing. Guest appearances from trumpeter Randy Brecker, alto saxophonist Eric Marienthal (who also appeared on Drumology), and Rob’s brother, Michael Silverman (synths) help shape reinterpretations of some familiar tunes and one original. Ptah Williams is a local legend, bassist Kornfield has been a long-time collaborator with The Silverman Brothers (co-led by Rob and Michael) and has played with Marienthal, Zappa, Jennifer Batten and David Garfield.
The album happened rather serendipitously. Silverman and Kornfield were working in the Silvermans’ Autumn Hill Studio when Williams dropped by. Williams joined in and Silverman started rolling tape. Apparently, Williams’ status is so legendary locally that Silverman would not have had the gumption to call him. Yet, Williams likes creating on the spot and working with different folks, so it was somehow meant to be. These jam sessions became weekly events in the winter of 2019 until being halted by the pandemic. They laid down more than 30 tunes, ultimately choosing eight for this project. Expect more volumes to follow.
Most will immediately recognize Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters’ “Chameleon” but here they play the full tune, not just the indelible riff that most do. “Just Like Us” is the only original, colored by sparkling solos from Brecker and Marienthal, obviously later added to the mix. A beautiful rendition of Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” is the centerpiece of the album and the most motivating piece of the original jam sessions. Williams was just fooling around and asked the others to join in. This is the sparkling 11-minute second take. Williams’ lovely acoustic piano leads into Wayne Shorter’s “Virgo Rising” and he turns fusion wizard with electric keyboards on an animated version of Chick Corea’s “Spain.”
Perhaps the most unexpected tune, one not normally tackled by jazz musicians, is the trio’s funky (what else?) cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman,” a track from the Superfly motion picture soundtrack. Kornfield lays down a thundering bassline to transform Monk’s classic “Well You Needn’t” together with Michael Silverman adding synths to create a spirited fusion romp. They close with “Nature Boy,” a tune associated with both Nat King Cole and John Coltrane, rendered gloriously here with Williams’s gliding fingers and improvisational bent.
Rhythm City, both album and trio, is a revelation primarily due to the immense skills of Ptah Williams, the keyboardist who is a regional treasure rather than a major national name as he well should be based on what we hear on this recording. These musicians are treading on sacred ground reinterpreting masters such as Hancock, Hubbard, Mayfield, Corea, Shorter and Monk. To their credit, they succeed to the extent that they may induce today’s audiences to revisit those classics.
- Jim Hynes