July 15, 2019. Drummer Vince Ector is a grown-up. He lives in New York City, the epicenter of unadulterated ambition. He teaches at Princeton, not really the type of place that evokes the inner child in us all. He plays with the Mingus Big Band and Orrin Evans’s Captain Black Big Band, serious ensembles for the mature and sophisticated plier of one’s craft.
But on Theme for Ms P., Ector’s fourth album as a leader, the South Philadelphia native is wistful for times less serious, the days of his youth, when TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia), that marriage of funk and soul that Philadelphia exported around the globe, was the most important thing in Ector’s much smaller world.
Ector grew up playing funk and was introduced to jazz by his father, who would take him to Dino’s Lounge in West Philly to hear the great Hammond organist, Don Patterson. It was at Dino’s, listening to Patterson, that Ector would develop an approach to drumming with organ groups that has served his career very well. Having cut records with Charles Earland, Joey DeFrancesco, and now Pat Bianchi, Ector has made himself into a first-call drummer for the jazz world’s best organ players.
But here, on Theme for Ms. P., it’s Ector calling the tunes, and his Organatomy Trio +, with Bianchi (Hammond B-3 organ), Bruce Williams (alto and soprano sax), and organists’ best friend, Paul Bollenback (guitar), helping Ector reconstruct the musical world of Ector’s adolescence.
The opener, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” is the perfect leadoff tune for this kind of world restoration. A hit single for Major Harris in 1975, after he’d left the popular Philly soul group The Delfonics, Ector and the trio’s version here is less velveteen couch and red silken cloth on the lampshade and more party-time swing.
Williams, on alto sax here, takes the melody and sprints out with it, handing off, in due course, to Bollenback for solo work, while Ector and Bianchi constitute a rhythm section of metronomic steadiness. We’re still talking about love but probably less about the making of it and more about its universal application. Both are excellent, but for a red light special kind of moment, I’m sure Ector would agree: go with the original.
In the two-hole is “Dex Blues,” an Ector original written for his sister, Linda Dexter. Ector prologues on drums, giving way to Bollenback and Williams who very hiply introduce the head of the tune in unison, which, in turn, begets Bianchi comping groovily for solos first by Bollenback, then by Williams. There’s so much begetting here, this music is a nearly biblical experience. Meanwhile, Ector hangs back, presiding and keeping time, letting his bandmates shine, until about three-quarters of the way through when he smoothly interjects a minute-plus drum solo to facilitate a return to the tune’s theme, reprised by Bollenback and Williams, who are simpatico throughout the album.
The cut I keep coming back to is the album’s closer, Don Patterson’s Sister Ruth, where, not surprisingly, Bianchi is given the widest berth to stretch out and show why he’s the second most in-demand Hammond organist in the world, and Ector gives us his most aggressive send-up to former Patterson drummer, Billy James, whose playing he no doubt studied at Dino’s Lounge all those years ago.
The title track, named for Ector’s mother (Ms. Pat) who loved Horace Silver’s work with Brazilian rhythms, is accordingly samba-tinged, while Burt Bacharach’s “Wives and Lovers” is retrofitted to match the Organatomy Trio’s energy and rhythmic sensibility, played up-tempo and in 6/8 time.
Not transcendent and not intergalactic, Theme for Ms. P affirms that the most populated plane of existence still has plenty to offer, including relaxed, nostalgic, ultra-competent jazz by some of the best doing it today.