Kendrick Scott is not a soft touch on the drums. A true virtuoso, Scott is the rare drummer who can exploit the whole kit in one song without sounding contrived; the Houston native hits with passion and power. But leading his band, Oracle, at Bohemian Caverns on Saturday night, he showed a rarer talent. Even with his intensity, Scott managed to make every tune feel like a meditation.
That feeling is more easily accomplished on Scott’s new album “Conviction,” on which his drums are low in the mix. Live, he has no such luxury. So instead, Scott presents introspective melodies, moody harmonies and medium tempos. He also wraps his more powerful workouts in layers of subtlety. The set’s second tune, “Apollo,” began with the drummer lightly treading a cymbal with the butts of his brushes, changing to a shimmer when he jingled the high-hat with quick taps of the brush during John Ellis’s long tenor saxophone solo. Somewhere in that same solo, though, Scott switched to sticks and snapped at his snare in earnest. Could any other drummer make such a stark transformation so quietly — and without changing the vibe of the song?
Scott did the same on “Pendulum” and Herbie Hancock’s “I Have a Dream.” On the former, Scott worked out the full kit, keeping time with a quick whoosh of the high-hat. The latter eventually arrived at popping rim shots, but before that Scott was doing as much to articulate the melody as was guitarist Mike Moreno. In both cases, the songs were unfailingly introspective. Moreno furthered that sensibility, with a glowing, liquid tone that washed over themes and pooled into pretty solos: “I Have a Dream” found him developing simple, four-note phrases into long, intelligent lines.
Moreno found his counterpart in Ellis, whose saxophone often harmonized with him on the melodies, and who, on Scott’s composition “Serenity,” matched the guitarist’s sensitivity with an improvisation both sad and hopeful, soaring in spite of itself. Scott’s other half, meanwhile, was Joe Sanders, playing fragmented, highly melodic bass lines that nevertheless stayed out of the way.
Pianist Taylor Eigsti was the wild card. His poking tongue betraying his exertion — in contrast with his bandmates’ stately expressions — Eigsti hopped between sympathetic reflections (Sufjan Stevens’s “Too Much”) and gospel fervor (“Serenity”) that drew grins from the leader. Eigsti and Scott came close to breaking the meditative mood on the closing “Cycling Through Reality,” the drummer building fierce momentum against the band’s rippling surface while the pianist flat-out jammed at maximum velocity. But even acting jointly as Oracle’s id, they couldn’t help sounding thoughtful, if tinged with emotion.
West is a freelance writer.