Tommy Igoe had a good thing going in New York City. The widely respected jazz drummer and his powerhouse big band regularly attracted a full house of devoted fans to Friday nights at Birdland, one of Manhattan’s highest-profile jazz clubs.
Since moving to the Bay Area about three years ago he’s pulled the same unlikely feat in San Francisco, turning a regular Tuesday night spot into an avidly attended event, first at the Rrazz Room and then at Yoshi’s San Francisco (which was recently rechristened as The Addition). Boasting some of the finest players and arrangers in the region, his recent album. "The Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy," gives a good sense of what the fuss is all about.
As its name suggests, Igoe’s 15-piece Groove Conspiracy doesn’t traffic in the classic jazz orchestra sound, though the band can swing with authority. But Igoe gets bored quickly, and every track stakes out new rhythmic territory, from funk and R&B to Cuban and Brazilian grooves. What makes the album work isn’t so much the variety of beats as the consistently smart arrangements.
The album opens with a simmering version of Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” a gospel-powered tune that was a big hit for Cannonball Adderley in the mid-1960s. Trombonist John Gove’s arrangement turns Joshua Redman’s tune “Jazz Crimes” into a sleek vehicle for the orchestra, making it sound like a forgotten track from Steely Dan’s “Aja.” The saxophone star recorded the tune at a time when he was veering away from straight ahead jazz syncopation, which is where Igoe wants to live.