Since coming of age in the nurturing environment of a very musical family and a distinguished bloodline of drummers, New Orleans native Herlin Riley emerged from that most creative era of all things rhythmic in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, to enliven the ensembles of such influential and demanding improvisers as pianist Ahmad Jamal and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis through his commanding yet elegant rhythmic presence.
His authoritative style of melodic percussion is deeply imbued in the fertile creative soil of the Crescent City, encompassing as it does the entire length and breadth of America’s ongoing musical journey.
Now with the release of his debut recording for Mack Avenue Records, Riley’s New Direction is an engaging, wide-ranging recital that distills a lifetime of experience into a swinging body of new music that defines what a big tent the music of New Orleans has always represented stylistically and spiritually.
“You see,” Riley explains, “New Direction reflects a personal transition from being a musical associate with the likes of Ahmad and Wynton, to functioning in a leadership capacity, both as a bandleader and a composer. Like Art Blakey, I’m trying to maintain a certain exuberance by using all younger musicians, while helping them develop their own voices. So many great musicians and drummers have come out of New Orleans, and that really defines my personal legacy; I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. But I’ve been playing drums since I was three years old, so while the title New Direction may suggest new bottles, this is surely some well-aged wine.