E.J. Strickland is an artist with a clear and sensible vision: that a drummer-led jazz record should give listeners an opportunity to get their groove on. The all-original program on his The Undying Spirit isn’t infused with long, indulgent percussion solos — snuff out any recollection you have about drumming from the movie Whiplash — because Strickland has gratifying knack for hip melodies and a soulful strut that clicks frequently on this highly listenable album.
The date leads with a groove tune called “Ride,” a track with a memorable theme and an arrangement that salutes the gifts of his tremendous quintet — brother Marcus Strickland on tenor, Jaleel Shaw on alto, phenom bassist Linda Oh and the accomplished Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo. As a group, they ground the drummer’s music.
On tunes like “Transcendence” (a tribute to Nelson Mandela) and “For My Home Folks,” the music has a beating heart, literally and figuratively. The songs are pleasantly long and Strickland’s charts give his band the freedom to exercise with harmonics and rhythms, stretching solos and phrases for maximum feeling. You get a sense there’s a lot of love here — all the tunes relate to Strickland’s life, brother, friends, family and his greatest love of all (“for SC”). A striking record by a remarkable musician, Strickland brings all his game to The Undying Spirit. (10 tracks; 70 minutes)