Ari Hoenig: Golden Treasures

Accompanied by piano, guitar and bass the Philly-born drummer deconstructs and reimagines standards but doesn't lose the swing


All too often, accomplished percussionists use skills and odd time-signatures to show off their chops and in effect leave swing at the door. Ari Hoenig, one of the most technically gifted contemporary drummers, doesn’t belong to that category.

On the contrary, the New York-based drummer and composer has been working on a high-octane energy level that is wholly personal. Furthermore, Hoenig dedicates part of his career to challenging deconstructions of classic repertoire.

On his latest effort, Golden Treasures, there is plenty to enjoy in the field of reimagining standards. Hoenig strips a tune of its clothes, revealing the ribs, hips and wiggling toes, the full monty, and restyles it step by step with slacks or pin-striped tie or Borsalino hat, depending on what is most suitable for the occasion.

Hoenig’s sizzling brushes and Gadi Lehavi’s featherlight piano stylings combine to make the surprisingly ultra-slow Cherokee a deeply resonating experience. Peacefully, and slightly stoned, Big Chief takes a powernap in the tipi-tent.

Melodic playing is one of Hoenig’s strong points, defining both his tom tom-driven solo effort on Sonny Rollins’ Doxy and Wayne Shorter’s subdued but propulsive Deluge. Small adaptations sometimes do the trick, like the lazy turnaround and hi-hatless beats of George Shearing’s Conception. It’s a conception that reveals thoughtful preparation.

The total of three original Hoenig compositions is a diverse lot. Goldenes Schätze builds from charming “salon music” vibe to dynamic group interaction that is spurred on by Mitch Mitchell/Michael Giles-type helter-skelter rolls, the kind that are not taught at music school but instead stem from personal passions; the kind that intuitively make “wrong” right. 

Goldenes Schätze – recalling Hoenig’s German ancestry – incorporates a thread of As Time Goes By. Who knows, perhaps that’s one of the classic ballads sung by the drummer to his kids, to which the title song of this exceptional album is dedicated.

Goldenes Schätze; It Might As Well Be Spring; Child’s Prey; Cherokee; Deluge; Conception; Sophisticated Lady; Home; Doxy (48.58)
Gadi Lehavi (p); Yoav Eshed (g); Ben Tiberio (b); Hoenig (d). New York City, 8 July 2021.
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