Kenny Drew – Undercurrent


The only Blue Note recording under Kenny Drew’s leadership and the last to be released under his name for a thirteen-year period, during which time the pianist would relocate to Europe, “Undercurrent” is a strong outing by the gifted pianist, composer and session leader. In the latter capacity, his job is made especially easy by a frontline of Hank Mobley and Freddie Hubbard, whose instant compatibility had been established just weeks earlier on Mobley’s sterling “Roll Call” (Blue Note, 1960). Moreover, the rhythm team of bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes had become one of the more efficient power plants in jazz as regular members of Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet at the peak of its popularity.

“Undercurrent” has nothing as viscerally infectious as the Adderley’s “Sack O’ Woe” from the same year but is an admirable program of Drew originals, ranging from the modal, streaming title piece to the self-descriptive “Funk-Cosity” to “Lion’s Den,” a welcome change of mood and pace, to the beboppish “The Pot’s On,” an elliptical melody that yields to the reassuringly warm inventiveness at which Mobley has few if any peers.

If none of the tunes is strikingly original or memorable, the same might be said of Drew’s otherwise superlative post-Powell piano work. Certainly among the highlights is the opening title tune. Drums and bass walk off eight bars at a flaming tempo, Drew adds a running baroque figure for the next eight, tenor and trumpet harmonize in thirds for the next sixteen then play in unison over a pedal tone for eight more, finally re- harmonizing in thirds for the last eight before Mobley’s tenor is suddenly ejected into the jet stream for the first solo. The latter player is simply masterful on this and each of his solo turns, clearly at the very top of his game during the same year that produced his masterpiece, “Soul Station.” Hubbard, the comparative newcomer, isn’t as fluent as Mobley but complements his frontline companion with a more aggressive, even puckish, approach, alternating between repeated percussive motifs and a soaring, passionate lyricism.

Given the size of the ensemble, the quality of the musicians, and the blowing room for each of the soloists, it’s perhaps small wonder that “Undercurrent” falls just short of a personal triumph for the leader (though arguably essential to any Mobley completist). But as a democratic and exemplary Blue Note session, with strong hands vigorously played by five proven winners, this latest RVG remaster deserves a place alongside more heralded recordings during a truly golden age in the music.


01. Undrecurrent
02. Funk-Cosity
03. Lion’s Den
04. The Pot’s On
05. Groovin’ The Blues
06. Ballade

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One Response to “Kenny Drew – Undercurrent”

  1. kurt says:

    This is just a fantastic album, everyone should have this in their collection. Maybe one of the best hard bop albums, period.

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