screenshot_ 2014-02-07 at 11.18.08 PM MUSIC REVIEW| NEAL SMITH GROUP Gently, Gently, a Drummer Leads His Pack By BEN RATLIFF Published: August 25, 2009 Why are so many good jazz gigs led by drummers these days? Possibly it’s just labor logic: the star system has broken down, the circuit has shrunk and there are fewer high-profile working bands led by great front-line soloists — saxophonists, trumpeters, guitarists. The burden to be charismatic has drained away from jazz a bit, too, for better or worse. When a drummer leads a band, you no longer expect Buddy Rich or Max Roach buttonholing you with virtuosity or brilliant improvising and making a special case for why a rhythm-section musician should be setting the ordinance. You expect a lot of sublimation to the greater good. Neal Smith, a New York drummer in his mid-30s who has played in Cyrus Chestnut’s band for the last 10 years, led a new group at Smalls on Monday, recording four sets over two nights for a live album. At the core of the band is the trio of Mr. Smith on drums, Dezron Douglas on bass and Mulgrew Miller, a wise elder, on piano. And then there were satellite elements, rotating in and out of the sets: the saxophonist Steve Wilson, the guitarist Mark Whitfield and the saxophonist Eric Alexander. Mr. Smith, calling the tunes, played no-nonsense post-bop rhythm, the hard center of jazz since the late 1950s. And he barely called attention to himself.

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