In jazz terms, it has been a long wait since Kevin Lawlor’s Exodus, but in the intervening four years, the Wexford-based musician has become a much in demand session drummer and teacher.
When I last saw him play, excluding his Wexford Festival gig in October, at the Aberjazz Festival in the summer, between Wexford and Wales in a 48 hour period, he had guested on four occasions.
He has become a musician’s drummer, a superlative team player, yet, for a percussionist gifted with many styles, is unshowy and is as undemonstrative as a shadow. If you liked Exodus, you will love Eight, which kicks off with the first of seven tracks penned by Lawlor, Payne in the Back, inspired by a concert Lawlor saw on television by Count Basie’s Big Band in which drummer Sonny Payne did a stick trick in a quiet section of an arrangement, hence Lawlor’s catchy melody interrupted by drum fills.
Payne in the Back swings the collection into a busy momentum, with rapid and soaring lines, and never less than melodic, from Konrad Wiszniewski, and terrific piano from long time collaborator Dave Jones, a momentum which Lawlor immediately maintains with In Between.
You have to pinch yourself because this is all original sorcery, from Lawlor’s solo mid stream in Payne in the Back , to the groovy and Motown-like and bass-punctuated In Between (the excellent Stevie Tierney), based around a series of rhythmic stabs and setting the pitch for more flights of intensity from Wiszniewsk.
Lawlor, who recorded Eight in four sessions between April and July, at Co. Wexford School of Music, is a generous arranger: each musician has the floor. On Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me, (with Lawlor intentionally rushing the main phrase to take the swagger out of the melody) there is a feel of the collective to the interplay between Lawlor, Jones and Csibi, all of whom appeared on Exodus (with Vesa Anttila on two tracks).
This is a recording with mettle – listen to Jazz Widow Blues (12 bar melody for drums, played open handed, and a swinging solo over walking bass) and Song for Jack Chapman (written a day after his funeral)– almost a jazz lament but with the ambience of a chamber arrangement.
Lawlor toured with Rusty McCarthy in 2012 when the guitarist took a homeopathic medicine called ‘No.9’ for a cold: Number Nine is constructed around the number with nine beats in each measure and a 9/4 rhythmic figure for the drum solo. This is ensemble playing of the highest quality, devoid of unnecessary longueurs, with Lawlor pulling the strings and melding the rhythm: Postscript is a Lawlor take on a Jones arrangement, and shifts through the gears into a festooning piano allegro, while on Long Distance, Wiszniewsk hijacks Csibi’s mellifluous bass and brings the melody to terra nova: Jones grounds it, and Wiszniewsk brings conclusion.