Those who have seen drummer Herlin Riley play know just how suitable the title of his latest release, Perpetual Optimism, really is. Riley often bounds onto a stage with big smile for all. This sense of the joy can also be immediately realized on the album’s first cut, “Rush Hour,” one of five Riley originals. Hand clapping accentuates the spirit of the tune, as does its bright melody. Fine horn arrangements and solos swapped between trumpeter Bruce Harris and Godwin Louis, highlight the song, with the rhythm section suggesting multiple textural tempos.
Next, Riley selects another rapid-paced original number, “Borders Without Lines,” by Victor Goines, a fellow New Orleanian and longtime bandmate in the Lincoln Center Orchestra. Cohn’s fingers fly over the piano keys, and he, bassist Russell Hall, and Riley, all take some stunning solo bars for themselves. Despite the high-flying pace, these guys land with perfect precision.
A certain whimsy permeates the Latin-tinged song, “Wings and Roots,” to which everybody adds their own personal touches. As always, Riley uses all the resources of his drum set for tonal variations.
The album closes with “Twelve’s It,” with Riley doin’ a little rap to explain the song’s origins: “A great musician who taught a whole lot of fellas. He wrote this tune, his name is Ellis Marsalis.”
Perpetual Optimism sonically projects Riley’s love of jazz music, and the music’s richness when shared with like-minded musicians and listeners.