Sunday, June 4, 2017

The doctor is in: Peter Erskine brings his Dr. Um band to the Jazz Kitchen

Peter Erskine tends to business heading Dr. Um at the Jazz Kitchen.
Durable as a performer and educator, long past his early flashes of worldwide fame as Weather Report's drummer, Peter Erskine dependably delivers in any musical context he places himself in.

Saturday night it was time for him to demonstrate that once again at the Jazz Kitchen. He returned to the Northside Club leading the quartet he has dubbed Dr. Um: saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Benjamin Shepherd, and keyboardist John Beasley join the drummer in this venture, which is supported by two CDs, the latest of which is "Second Opinion" (Fuzzy Music).

This is a seamless ensemble, with alert coordination in such matters as a unison statement of the theme by synthesizer and sax in Beasley's "Lost Page," which opened the first set Saturday. In the churning "Hawaii Bathing Suit," a droll Erskine original, the coordination heated up, driven particularly well by the New Zealand-born bassist's nimble fingers. Erskine took his most extensive drum solo of the set here.  He's a supremely efficient drummer. Every lick tells. For all that he throws down upon his drums and cymbals, you get the feeling that nothing is extraneous.

In terms of pure post-bop agility, there was nothing the quartet managed better than the way it took command of Shepard's "Solar Steps," which featured the composer's roiling tenor sax solo and a florid turn by Beasley on piano.

"Hipnotherapy," whose punning title reflects an old habit of Erskine's (I've long been tickled by "I Hear a Rap CD"), brought forth lots of virtuosity from the pianist and set the stage for the blues-drenched set-closer, Beasley's "Eleven Eleven," which opened with a fruitful bass-drums dialogue, then fairly burst its seams with all-over energy. Erskine got fairly loud about it, but characteristically never flailed or bashed in the manner of some drummers when they want to convey excitement.

Always a musician whose alliances have suited him over the decades, Erskine is a fixture on the West Coast (clued by his reference at one point to "Car-MEL," the roundabout city to Indianapolis' north) whose travels into this part of the country are welcome and worth taking note of. His collegiality is notable, and behind the kit, he seems consistently comfortable in his skin — and with his skins.

[Photo by Gene Markiewicz]