With disciplined sticks and steady power, soft-spoken drummer Adam Cruz led his band in a tight, satisfying set on June 21 at Scullers. Cruz and his sidemen breathed a large amount of life into the tunes from his debut album, “Milestone,” with post bop solos and arrangements that grouped voices or split them apart into free jazz.
It was immediately apparent, as Cruz took the opening tune “Crepuscular” into a solo transitioning to “Secret Life,” what a wonderful drummer he is. With impeccable dynamics, mastery of his set, and subtle Latin echoes, he established a steady beat that carried and pushed the band through the whole evening.
Cruz’s compositions, open structures that set up modal drones, are clearly Coltrane-influenced, but they are colored differently, sometimes with an ECM feel, or with a smart rhythmic hook. At certain points diatonic call and response or free jazz freefall is interjected into the arrangements. As a leader, Cruz has chosen his sidemen well. Guitarist Steve Cardenas switched comfortably between diatonic lyricism and angular lines, often developing successive lines out of previous phrases. Bassist Matt Brewer, unobtrusive but strong, played conversational, melodic solos on the thoughtful ballads “Bird of Paradise” and “Resonance.” Eli Degibri and Steve Wilson added meaty statements of their own on tenor and alto saxophones, respectively. Wilson occasionally changed to soprano saxophone, as he had in the album. If Cruz, deservedly one of the top drummers in jazz today, was the star of the show, pianist Kevin Hays was the set’s unsung hero. Playing the music for the first time, he used inventive voicings and lines and took chances in the moment, leading at one point into a dark solo piano monologue on “Emjé.”