Rudy Royston “Flatbed Buggy”
Apr 2, 2019
Denver’s favorite hometown hero returns to the Dazzle stage leading a compact, almost chamber-like quintet featuring Gary Versace (accordion), John Ellis (woodwinds), Hank Roberts (cello) and Joe Martin (bass).
Rudy Royston, first-call drummer with Bill Frisell, JD Allen, Dave Douglas and a host of other jazz greats, has honed a thoroughly engaging voice as a composer and bandleader with his compelling debut 303 (2014) and the raw and bracing trio follow-up Rise of Orion (2016). To these fine releases, both on Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf Music imprint, Royston now adds his third, Flatbed Buggy, rich in tonal contrast and mood yet steeped in the supple, enduring swing and groove that has driven his writing and playing from the start.
Of the album title, Royston says: “Flatbed buggies to me mean country, they mean home, they mean earth. We lived in Denver but my father lived in Texas, and I would spend time in the country there. I remember riding on this kind of flatbed buggy thing when I was a child. The whole feeling that brought me … it was comforting, it was outside, this bitter shrubbery smell, my friends are there, my family’s there. So it’s about that, but the album also has to do with time: a time in my life, the beginning of things, the process of them. The buggy moving along up a road represents the movement of time. And the titles on the album really have to do with time and motion.”
While Flatbed Buggy presents far more than a succession of virtuosic solos, the passion and technical depth of the performances themselves — including standout improvisations from all involved — can’t go unremarked. John Ellis, among the great saxophonists of his generation, plays mainly bass clarinet throughout, achieving a remarkable sound and impact. Gary Versace, a top organist and pianist of our time, is equally stunning on accordion, bringing a reedy melodic sustain and full harmonic weight to the music. On the low strings, whether bowed or pizzicato, Hank Roberts and Joe Martin contribute a wealth of subtlety and energy as well, intersecting and digging in, never in the expected ways. And Royston, even though he lays back and never dominates here (he notes there’s only one drum solo on the record), still offers what amounts to a master class on the jazz drummer’s art.