Out of San Jose, California comes this teacher of 200 public school students whose self-proclaimed mission in life is to promote instrumental music within the lives of people of all ages. To that end, consider this a wholehearted endorsement of Pomponio (First Orbit Sounds Music), the debut recording by drummer and educator Jemal Ramirez.
It starts whiz-bang with Bobby Hutcherson’s title track that’s so action-packed you won’t have time to breathe. I just stood there and stared at the music coming out of my speakers. It’s all in the clave, that unceasing Latin fire that accentuates rhythm above all else. If you didn’t know Jemal was human, you might think he was an octopus on the skins with all eight tentacles brandishing a drum stick. Bobby Watson’s “In Case You Missed It” lets the band swing (for an example of such, check out the imbedded video) before Wayne Shorter’s “Prince Of Darkness” returns to the island rhythmic thrust adding Matthew Clark’s piano trading choruses with an extremely satisfying front line of Joel Behrman on trumpet and Howard Wiley on sax. Warren Wolf’s vibes are an essential component; his “Back in the Swing of Things” speaks for itself. (As does “Waltz For Monk.”)
When they slow it down for an absolutely beautiful and reverent rendition of Herbie Hancock’s “Alone And I,” the band sits for a meditative vibes and piano conversation. Then, when they get a hold of “Citadel” by Tony Williams, the joyous free-for-all contains escalating sax, piano and trumpet solos. Jimmy Van Heusen’s 1947 melody for “But Beautiful” brings them to Brazil where that bossa nova beat is paramount. They pull it off with aplomb, a first-take with Wolf’s vibraphone leading the way. Simply gorgeous! Kenny Garrett’s “J’Ouvert” goes calypso and “Lodi Huggins” is the one blues.
If this is what we can expect from this public school teacher in the future, can his exit from the classroom be imminent?