Music News

Ari Hoenig Avoids Mediocrity

Last April, when jazz drummer Ari Hoenig returned to New York after playing a gig in Denver, he was greeted by an e-mail from a woman who wrote him a long, thoughtful note expressing how much she hated the music his trio played at Dazzle. He was a bit stunned. Everyone else who saw the show seemed to love it. In fact, they gave him a standing ovation.

"She was trying to explain in detail why she didn't like it," Hoenig explains. "She cared about it and she could tell how talented we were as musicians and everything, but she felt that we were using that in the wrong way somehow. So I wrote her back saying just what I thought: 'It's very apparent that this music affected you some way emotionally, very strongly, even if it wasn't positively.' My opinion is that great art affects people in a very strong way in one way or another — and not somewhere in the middle, because somewhere in the middle is mediocre. And so all my favorite artists and musicians are people that most people hate them or love them, but not really anywhere in the middle."

Likewise, Hoenig has a powerful effect on listeners, whether he's being explosive and heavy-handed, swinging fiercely or delicately using brushes. A remarkably intuitive and innovative drummer, he can even coax melodies out of the drums by using his elbows on the drum skins to change the pitch.

"I wanted it to be like any other instrument," he says. "I wanted to be able to play melodies in the same way. I also wanted to be able to invent melodies. So I started really simple melodies, playing major and minor scales and arpeggios just so I could actually play some of the notes I was hearing on the drums."

Hoenig's melodic approach to drumming started at North Texas State, where he learned Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" for a recital. Since then, playing melodies on the drums has become a big part of his repertoire. On his latest effort, last year's Inversations, Hoenig opens the record by playing the melody to Parker's "Anthropology" and closes with an awesome solo drum rendering of the old gospel number "This Little Light of Mine."

Hoenig recently completed Seraphic, his fifth album as a leader and the one that took the longest — a year and a half — to make. The album will be released in Europe in March on the Dreyfus imprint, and will most likely hit American shelves in May. When Hoenig stops by Dazzle this weekend, he'll be joined by guitarists Gilad Hekselman and Jonathan Kreisberg and saxophonists Chris Potter and Will Vinson.

Wonder if it'll be as stirring as last time.

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon