The E.J. Strickland Quintet

Warriors For Peace
(Jammin’colorS )

E.J. Strickland earned top sideman cred with the likes of Ravi Coltrane, Cassandra Wilson and Wynton Marsalis, his drumming combining a classic sense of swing with strong influences from the Latin, r&b and funk worlds. On his third disc as leader, Warriors For Peace, Strickland again shows keen compositional skills, favoring melodicism, hip harmonies, strong rhythmic drive and an exploratory—yet never “out”—framework.

Strickland spearheads a quintet fronted by tenorist Jure Pukl and altoist Godwin Louis, their full-bodied blend bringing the bandleader’s melodies to expressive blossom. Pianist Taber Gable contributes dramatic contrasts of power and delicacy, while Josh Ginsburg is an ideal bassist for Strickland, with his urgent rhythmic drive. Right out of the gate, the bandleader kicks off “Uvumilivu” with a fiery drum solo, then launches into a soaring Afro-Cuban-tinged 6/8 groove. In contrast, the title track grooves with a subtle r&b undertow, supporting the head’s soulful saxophone harmonies.

The ensemble’s ease with tricky, shifting odd meters shines on the exhilarating “Coexistence,” while “Understand What I Mean” expands upon an irresistible soul-jazz riff. The aching melody of the tender ballad “Let It Go,” as beautifully stated by Louis, later is reprised with additional understated vocals, leaving listeners with a message of serenity and hope.

Strickland said his disc is dedicated to “those who break the silence and stand up for what is right.” But the titular “warriors” actually could be this fearless quintet.