Rudy Royston, Flatbed Buggy (Greenleaf Music)
Blends of accordion, cello, reeds and bowed bass sometimes swell the music of drummer Royston’s album nearly to orchestral proportions. But the collection also has simple qualities akin to cowboy songs and folk music, except when it’s more or less squarely in the bebop tradition, as in “Bobblehead.” John Ellis’s soprano saxophone solo on that track is pure bop except for certain harmonies in the accompaniment that might have raised Bela Bartok’s eyebrows if he had heard it. In other words Flatbed Buggy has wide variety in its approach.
The opening track, “Soul Train,” establishes the life-affirming energy and humor that course through the project. Gary Versace solos on accordion, John Ellis on bass clarinet and Hank Roberts on cello over Royston’s variegated drumming and Joe Martin’s loping bass line. The title tune has Versace in one of several appearances as a full-range accordionist who in other roles is a principal soloist in the Maria Schneider Orchestra and a frequent collaborator with the equally adaptable and adventurous guitarist Bill Frisell.
“Bed Bobbin,’” “Dirty Stetson,” “Hold My Mule,” and “I Guess It’s Time To Go” are short interludes that demonstrate Royston’s drum virtuosity as he works hand in hand with his sidemen. Indeed, the entire album makes clear that not only is he a master of his instrument but it also emphasizes that his complete musicianship allowed authorship of all of the album’s dozen tunes.