You Already Know, the New Deal/Impulse! debut from the acclaimed drummer Ted Poor - "a trustworthy engine in countless modern-jazz settings," per the New York Times - isn't your typical jazz drummer's recording, almost defiantly so. But if you're at all familiar with the Seattle-based Poor's explorative career - or the wide-ranging work of his principal collaborators here, the deeply influential guitarist-producer Blake Mills and the saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo - this should come as no surprise.
After all, Poor has proven equally brilliant in bands led by the visionary avant-jazz trumpeter Cuong Vu and the lauded indie singer-songwriter Andrew Bird. Whether he's on a club bandstand alongside a generation-defining improviser like the guitarist Ben Monder, or onstage at New York's historic Town Hall, backing Paul Simon as part of Chris Thile's trusted Live From Here band, Poor is a music-first drummer. His tremendous technical abilities behind the kit are inarguable - and no doubt serve him well as the Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle - but he places color, texture, sound and especially melody atop chops. "The songs that I write, and certainly the songs that appear on this record, are songs you can sing," Poor says, explaining how his time in the employ of renowned singer-songwriters has informed his own composing. "These are the songs I sing to myself as well."
An invaluable part of the album's smart, streamlined design can be attributed to producer Mills, the 33-year-old polymath and an heir to super-producer-musicians like Ry Cooder and Don Was. In fact, the very existence of You Already Know belongs to Poor's relationship with Mills. The two met and clicked in 2014, during the sessions for Bird's album Are You Serious, and began hanging out and playing together whenever Poor would visit Los Angeles. During one of those hangs, Poor played some working recordings of his duets with D'Angelo, and Mills was thrilled by them. The inception of New Deal, Mills' own imprint through Verve/Universal Music, set the wheels in motion. "I was really appreciative of how reserved Blake was in his choices as a producer," Poor says. "There would often be times where I wanted to do more and more, or leave an element in longer, such as the strings or the piano. And Blake was very conscious of keeping the ear's focus on the main two instruments, and to get in and out as quickly as possible with the other stuff."
In some fashion, You Already Know is no different than the many gorgeous folk- and Americana-tinged singer-songwriter albums Mills has helmed. It's a folk album, but "not the genre of folk," Poor says. "It's more the idea of music as oral tradition - music as song." Musicians Ted Poor drums, percussion, piano, harmonium Andrew D'Angelo alto saxophone Blake Mills guitar, acoustic bass, piano, harmonium Sebastian Steinberg acoustic bass Paul Kowert acoustic bass Andrew Bird violin Rob Moose violin, viola, cello
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