The 88-year old maestro, Roy Haynes, took the bandstand at a packed Scullers Jazz Club in Cambridge, MA. clad in a dapper green and white paisley vest floating over a bright orange shirt with a black tie. His smile lit up his face and spanned from one dimple to another. Everyone in the audience stood to applaud Haynes even before he took out his sticks to test his surroundings. Like a surgeon carefully evaluating his patient, Haynes surveyed his drum kit: tightening a snare surface here; adjusting a high hat there. As he did this, he chatted about growing up in Boston and how he disobeyed his mother’s directive to “not play that jazz on Sundays.” But Sundays were THE day of the week when the guys would get together to jam in the local haunts and Haynes would always sneak away from home to these jam sessions to listen and take it all in.
Following this little confession (accompanied by a sly grin), Haynes flicked his supple wrist and flung a huge cymbal crash into the room to commence the proceedings. First up was Sonny Rollins’ “Grand Street,” a tune that is also the opening rollicking cut to Haynes and his Fountain of Youth Band’s latest release, Roy-alty [on Dreyfus Jazz]. At Scullers, the full compliment of the Fountain of Youth Band was present, including Jaleel Shaw on sax, David Wong on bass and Martin Bejerano on piano. From their very first notes, these gifted musicians exhibited a special kinetic connection to Haynes, who, as their band leader, directed their locomotion with a bright, shining presence. “Grand Street,” was a spirited opener, where Haynes’ percussive energy propelled Shaw and Berjerano in their brawny solos. In Berjerano’s case, as he delivered a bevy of crisp piano runs in an extended solo, Haynes threw him a curve ball: Haynes hit a huge bass drum blast amidst his softly churning snare. This sudden eruption sent Berjerano in a new direction as he blasted a thunderous roll with his left hand into his piano’s deepest registers. Like a sailboat making a quick turnabout (to catch a new breeze of inspiration), Berjerano followed this percussive course set (on the fly) by the infectious Haynes.
Listening to the band’s recorded version of “Grand Street” on Roy-alty brings other rewards as guest trumpeter Roy Hargrove rides Haynes’ big strokes of snare and cymbal with a punctuated effervescence that climbs steadily into the highest registers of his instrument. Here, “Grand Street” is all sparkling celebration with fireworks galore from Hargrove’s piercing reaches, Shaw’s muscular sax twists and Haynes’ light — yet always punctual — percussion.
Another highlight from the Scullers concert was the band’s take on “These Foolish Things,” a buoyant ballad that also appears on Roy-alty. On this number, Haynes displayed his mastery of his brushes: soft as a summer rain but also with a special articulation to each swipe and caress on either tom or snare. How Haynes achieves this combination of soft yet punctual with his simple brushing motions is part of the Haynes’ magic. At one point, (while Wong delved deep into resonant bass plucks), Haynes used his brushes on both the outer edges and inner center of his cymbals. This created an eerie decaying sheen of metallic mist that suffused the bassist’s woody notes. On Roy-alty, this same ballad is a showcase for Hargrove and Haynes to display their beautiful synergy together as Hargrove’s trumpet softly pierces and flits in and around the circular motion of Haynes’ delicate brushes.
Those distinct swipes of brushes can turn into a maelstrom of shimmering energy once Haynes turns his attention to his mallet set. During one of his extended solos at the Scullers concert, Haynes put on a mallet clinic: using every surface of his toms with ferocious energy to create a volcanic thunder with the heads of his mallets or gently tapping his high-hat with the end of the mallet stick to create a distinct ring of metallic energy. On Roy-alty, such radiant inventiveness is heard on Haynes’ solos taken at the conclusion of the band’s version of Miles Davis’ “Milestones,” (where Haynes duels with Wong’s bass in a dazzling display of ricochet stick work upon shifting drum surfaces) and on “Tin Tin Deo”, (where Haynes’ percussion erupts on a buoyant rumba that propels great solos from Hargrove, Shaw and Berjerano. “Tin Tin Deo” also features conga player Roberto Quintero who resonantly calls to Haynes from a distant off-stage position with his congas while Haynes unleashes a barrage of percussion.
One final (and lasting) impression taken from the excellent Scullers show was how Haynes and his Fountain of Youth Band were clearly sharing a special synergy and how Haynes remains a master listener. No matter what the percussive line and no matter how spontaneous, Haynes always seemed to be thinking ahead to create a wholeness, an intelligible melodic direction, to whatever he played. Similarly, on Roy-alty, you get this sense of Haynes’ great gift for listening to his band mates and creating a melodic structure to each of his drum creations. This is particularly apparent when Haynes performs in a stripped-down duet format with pianist Chick Correa on two cuts. Although these duets are less successful than others on the album, (in that they are a bit impenetrable in form and somewhat less dynamic in musical flow), they still reward in how Haynes weaves a beautiful interaction with his duet partner. Corea’s loquacious wit on piano is echoed by Haynes’ mellifluous pitter patter on his snare. Similarly, Corea’s deep purple chords are reflected and refracted by Hayes’ soft bass drum hits.
The recording makes all of this telepathic communication between Haynes and his compatriots on Roy-alty easy to follow. It delivers an upfront perspective on the musical action; good dynamic headroom and lends a crispness to instruments and image dimensionality that makes it easy to follow Haynes’ magnetic presence on his drum kit. The Fountain of Youth certainly continues to flow forth for the ebullient 88- year old Maestro. Catch him and his Fountain of Youth Band while you can- even on a Sunday!