While drummer Louis Hayes has been known to take a solo or two — it was two at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Friday night — he's more likely to drive from behind. Best known for his stints in the 1950s with Horace Silver and in the 1960s with Cannonball Adderley and Oscar Peterson, Hayes is a catalyst, channeling his boundless energy into the band itself and being frugal with Blakey- and Roach-style pyrotechnics.
As he demonstrated at KC, playing a supporting role doesn't mean he will be ignored.
"Serenade for Horace," the first tune played by Hayes's quintet, featured hard-swinging solos by every other member: vibraphonist Steve Nelson; tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton; pianist Anthony Wonsey; and bassist Dezron Douglas. Hayes didn't need one himself. His personality was unmissable in his accompaniment, full of thudding bombs on his bass drum, accented change-ups on the snare and a ride-cymbal sound that was as much a lash as a hiss.
His playing retained that character, and a fair bit of volume, throughout the set. But it never became domineering. Instead, it nicely spurred on Burton's mighty tirade on, for example, "St. Vitus' Dance." On "Bolivia," Hayes meshed with Nelson such that he and the vibist seemed to be playing a duet, the drummer adapting and accenting Nelson's rhythms with seeming telepathy. He didn't quite establish that level of rapport with Wonsey on what followed — it was clearly a solo, belonging to the pianist — but neither did he miss an opportunity to spice it up, raising the temperature on the ride cymbal and forcing Wonsey to respond in kind.
Even on the set's ballad, "Darn That Dream," Hayes was difficult to miss. He switched to brushes and stayed away from Nelson's warm, declaratory lines, but his playing was ever-present, with a sensuous sweep at times offset with pitter-patter. He resumed stickwork on Wonsey's solo — Burton laying out — making the cymbal shiver, along with this listener's spine.
All that said, Hayes did indeed take two solos, and if they showed impressive chops, they also, and perhaps more so, betrayed his fealty to the rhythms of the songs. Most of "Bolivia" found him rolling out the groove, just as he had been under the other soloists, albeit with more rack-tom and snare-drum rolls, before briefly coming to a boil near solo's end. He did the same on the set-closing "Cookin' at the Continental," re-centering on a different drum with each of his eight choruses: a clever trick that masked how carefully Hayes maintained the tune's blues structure. Two tasty morsels, but no more; a master drummer need not overwhelm to make an impact.