By Herb Boyd | Published July 2019
A sumptuous gumbo of melody and rhythm underscores drummer Herlin Riley’s Perpetual Optimism, an album that, for the most part, can be heard as an encore to the group’s initial offering, New Direction.
On most of the tunes here, Bruce Harris’ trumpet is spicy and spikey, and when it blends with Godwin Louis’ carefully and soulfully phrased tonality on alto saxophone, a pleasant and comforting calm is exuded, something that’s clearly evident on “Be There When I Get There.”
By the time the ensemble arrives at “Borders Without Lines,” Riley takes charge and the reputation he earned during those days in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is showcased: An extended solo with a variety of shifting tempi finds the bandleader moving effortlessly from drum to drum. He’s a master time-keeper and grooves here—and elsewhere—with an innate gift for improvisation. His vocal skills surface, too, on Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” and during a little rap repartee on “Twelve’s It.”
Pianist Emmet Cohen brilliantly illuminates “Stella By Starlight,” and his tender transparency is all bassist Russell Hall needs to give the timeless standard a fresh veneer. Of course, Riley’s brushwork provides the finishing touches.
What’s immediately obvious with this recording is that calls will follow for another session or two, so that the quintet can hone the tones, and rather than filing them down, sharpen their edges.
Perpetual Optimism: Rush Hour; Be There When I Get There; Borders Without Lines; You Don’t Know What Love Is; Perpetual Optimism; Touched; Wings And Roots; Wang Dang Doodle; Stella By Starlight; Twelve’s It. (60:18)
Personnel: Herlin Riley, drums, vocals; Emmet Cohen, piano; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Bruce Harris, trumpet; Russell Hall, bass.