Dre Hocevar Trio
Clean Feed Records 2015
When Slovenia-born drummer Dre Hočevar speaks of drumming, he shows an equal admiration and respect for American peers and counterparts (e.g. Nasheet Waits, Tyshawn Sorey, Marcus Gilmore) as well as an impressive list of jazz elders, many he has studied with – from drummers Michael Carvin, Ralph Peterson and Gerry Hemingway to non-drummers like bassist Reggie Workman, pianist Hal Galper, guitarist/bassist Joe Morris and saxophonist Steve Lehman. “I’ve been with teachers all of my life… Every day basically since I was six,” Dre once revealed to me. At 26 years of age at the time of recording Coding of Evidentiality, he has obviously and admittedly gained a little something from each of those teachers and music theoreticians in the intervening two decades.
With Carvin, Dre began his studies with the master drummer and teaching veteran in 2012. This session marks the second time he has asked Carvin to be Producer, the first time being Dre’s debut record, Motion in Time. Carvin’s C.V. includes work with such jazz legends as Hampton Hawes, Dizzy Gillespie, Jackie McLean and countless others plus prolific work as a leader of his own impressive bands. His teaching background reveals how largely responsible he has become for the healthy state of modern jazz drumming; just have a look at his past and present list of students, Dre one of the more recent additions. Carvin’s influence on the young drummer’s dynamic approach and focus as a leader is clearly evident on what is Dre’s sophomore recording as leader.
As you will soon hear (or, as the case may be, have already heard), sonically Dre and his trio (pianist Bram De Looze and cellist Lester St. Louis; electronicist Sam Pluta guests on one track) leave their musical canvas wide open. For starters, Dre has quickly become a seasoned expert on and master of rhythmic possibilities, noticeably helping spur the trio on to develop each improvisation compositionally and with tenacious unity. Together they exquisitely utilize space between notes and strokes, with a sure-footed emphasis on timbre. Experimental cellist St. Louis (making his recording debut here) replaces what used to be a bass element in Dre’s trio. A classical composer of new music, St. Louis brings with him an interesting perspective and responsiveness to what is an already well-formed musical relationship the drummer has with Belgian pianist De Looze (as heard on Dre’s previous recording).
Dre shows himself to be an open-eared sound scientist with an unquestionable appreciation for tradition and thirst as a leader for a cohesive, empathetic ensemble of similar-minded bandmates; his role as drummer/leader is Tony Williams-esque with an inside/outside approach. One moment he’s supportive, supplying complimentary figures around them, while conversely at other junctures he’s the focal point from which the trio revolves around. “I didn’t know precisely what type of music we were going to come up with. It could have been a continuation of the first album (which was) a structured, interpretive approach to improvisation,” said Dre, who re-composed works he already had in near complete form since this specific situation turned out to be slightly different from his previous group (with cello vs. bass). Somewhat switching gears but maintaining a continuum for this project, Dre quickly discovered a new strategy: “The first change was that I started to be very precise in the way we would treat all the notions of the traditional devices or functionality – how we fundamentally organize melodic design, and the harmonic perspective into an exciting platform for improvisation, especially from the point of our own interest in innovation and the need for realization of specific structural or methodological solutions.” Expect the Unexpected might have been an appropriate title for the new album, as this spontaneous trio surprises at every turn, from beginning to end.
The leader’s personal touch on the drums – from his crisp cymbal work to the sonic depth tapped from his kit – is a direct tip of the hat once again to Carvin’s involvement and influence. The program’s variety ranges from opener “Form of the Future”, the leader’s rhythmically escalating frenzied performance in conjunction with De Looze’s solid piano navigation, to “Post Resonance 1J7-36” ‘s staggering loose trio improvisation that presents quite an acoustic soundscape of stick and brushed rhythms, cymbal splashes, and St. Louis’ staccato and abrasive arco cello complemented by rumbling piano. “Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)” introduces a new voice, so to speak. Pluta’s electronic effects and signal processing add another dimension without losing the session’s flow nor the unique instrumentation and overall sound and flow of Dre’s new trio. The group’s chemistry not only remains intact but they excel with this added dimension. Pluta’s sounds open doors to the experimental nature of the group, seamlessly creating an electro-acoustic soundscape that simultaneously envelops and propels the sonic proceedings.
And though Pluta doesn’t appear elsewhere, the following “Representational Redescription” effectively carries over this electro-acoustic element with the trio’s ever-slight incorporation of Rhodes drone splashes, a nice touch that provides echoing accentuations and a musical shadow to the trio’s sudden movements. St. Louis’ “Polymorphia” (the only tune not credited to Dre) subtly introduces the trio, their tones and sound contributions crisscrossing, becoming more distinguishable as the piece develops. De Looze then takes what is a moving unaccompanied interlude before in the closing two minutes the three return to their mystical conversing, eventually resulting in a natural, intuitive conclusion. In a nutshell this piece ideally reflects the trio’s liberating expansiveness and the limitless musical canvas and wide terrain they can and do navigate and traverse on moment’s notice.
“Cello Interlude”, the next to last track, is St. Louis’ virtuosic unaccompanied cello spotlight. He simultaneously displays his absolute instrumental control while exposing a fondness for freer, less constrained and more contemporary classical elements in his arsenal and at his fingertips. All I have to say is watch out Erik Friedlander, Ernst Reijseger, Peggy Lee, Vincent Courtois and co. – there’s a new kid on the block! St. Louis then introduces the record’s closer “Second Portrait of the Exemplary…”, remaining a central voice that Dre and De Looze complement; in turn the pianist switches then shares “leading” roles with the cellist. Perhaps most dramatically is when St. Louis plays under Dre’s cymbals (here as well as throughout the session), and repurposes the drummer’s playing harmonically, in a sense connecting chords utilizing Dre’s rhythmic input. This may sound more complicated than it is but, nonetheless, it creates euphoric moments the listener might just take for granted. Technically there may be such a sparse amount of information on the one hand but it is the overall effect that computes to immeasurable listener rewards that beckon for further and deeper listening experiences.
Ultimately it’s this trio’s greatest strength: functioning at a high level of improvisational intuition and freedom under such loose compositional framework with resulting and rewarding sounds in music (for musician as much as listener), as second nature as breathing.
Word to the wise – take a deep breath!
Managing Editor, The New York City Jazz Record