With Flatbed Buggy, drummer Rudy Royston has come into his own as a composer. Joined by reedplayer John Ellis (chiefly on bass clarinet), accordion player Gary Versace, cellist Hank Roberts and bassist Joe Martin he channels influences as diverse as Bill Frisell and Ron Miles, tied together by memories of his partial Texas upbringing in a melodically rich chamber suite.
Tempting as it is to be enchanted by this unique combination, it feels as organic as the music itself. To be sure, each instrument has inherent qualities. Bass clarinet and cello form an especially flexible spine, accordion a robust pair of lungs, bass legs on which to stand and drums a brain to prompt every member into action. But it’s the way in which they combine in the guise of one body that makes them stand out. Between opener “Soul Train” and brief outro “I Guess It’s Time To Go,” listeners are led from sunrise to sunset with the vividness of a favorite childhood memory. The past is therefore a running theme of Flatbed Buggy, the very title evoking country life in a time buried under the detritus of recent history and which reaches fullest evocation in “Twirler” and “Hourglass.”
While there are obvious examples of virtuosity, such as the whimsical round of solos in “Bobblehead” and thoughtful contributions of Versace and Ellis in the title track, a collective spirit overrides concerns of individual expression. Likewise in the swinging contours of “The Roadside Flowers” and two starkly narrative tracks “boy…MAN,” which shuttles bass through a loom of block chords, and the more ponderous “girl…WOMAN.” Whether in these protracted examples or the three jauntier interludes sprinkled throughout, this music is sincere, vividly articulated and not afraid of a little dirt under the fingernails.
(This review originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)