Drummer Ted Poor Debuts with Andrew D’Angelo, Andrew Bird, Blake Mills On Minimalist Jazz ‘You Already Know’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Drummer Ted Poor, best known for his work with folk artists and indie rockers, makes his debut as a leader with this minimalist jazz effort You Already Know, produced by Blake Mills. Besides Poor, whose thoughtful drum parts are clearly heard from the opening “Emilio” through the nine tracks, is saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo who has the spotlight on eight of the tracks, indie rocker Andrew Bird, and multi-instrumentalist Rob Moose.

Seattle-based Ted Poor has quickly become one of the most in-demand drummers across genres due to his soulful skillset and eclectic taste. In addition to his work with Andrew Bird he has shared the stage with artists such as Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Cuong Vu, and more. He has also collaborated with producers and artists such as Mitchell Froom, Blake Mills, and Tony Berg. Now a resident of Seattle, Poor is currently an Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Washington.  

The album in one sense sounds like those New York loft albums of the seventies from the likes of David Murray and Oliver Lake.  Some may even compare it to those later Coltrane sessions with drummer Rashied Ali and though somewhat similar, the expressive D’Angelo plays with much more restraint than the explorative Coltrane of that period and he and Poor seem bent on finesse, creating a contemplative ballad-like, as opposed to spiritual, kind of vibe. They are also joined by others on most tracks. D’Angelo’s playing is certainly evocative, and Poor’s drumming is remarkably crafty, non-flashy and in support of the tune, using each aspect of the kit when necessary rather than going for explosions of sound. 

Poor’s debut comes from a completely different place and some serendipitous events.

Poor and D’Angelo met by chance three years ago in Seattle three years ago, found they shared some musical ideas and knew they would collaborate at some point, eventually laying down the initial sessions as a duo.  Then, as fate would have it, Poor played the record for his friend Blake Mills.  Mills found the recordings compelling and proposed finishing work on the album together and releasing the music on New Deal, Blake’s new imprint through Verve/Universal Music Group. “I was really appreciative of how reserved Blake was in his choices as a producer,” recalls Poor. “Blake was very conscious of keeping the listener’s ears on the main two instruments, and to get in and out as quickly as possible with the other stuff.” The record is now being issued as New Deal/Impulse!  Make no mistake, this is a jazz album.

Besides the two main musicians, Poor and D’Angelo,.“To Rome” features indie fan-favorite Andrew Bird, with whom Poor records and tours (alongside Madison Cunningham, who also featured Poor on her Verve Forecast debut Who Are You Now). “Only You” expands upon a mantra-like motif which Poor feels provides “form and emotion that grows out of that.”  “New Wonder” is an improvisational piece for which Poor shadowed Andrew D’Angelo’s sax melody on the piano in Sound City Studio’s fabled echo chamber.  When the close mic-ed piano sound was muted it left what Poor calls a “shimmery halo” of reverb and space. The hypnotizing track beautifully reflects the improvisational (and conversational) nature of the album. 

Although it seems as if You Already Know is on a divergent path from the folk-ish artists and albums Poor has played on and supported, he doesn’t exactly see it that way. Poor unironically believes that it’s still a folk album…not in the sense of the genre classification, but “more the idea of music as oral tradition—music as song.”  As mentioned above, don’t bring any false illusions of folk or indie-pop, this is a jazz album, and a very good one at that.


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