There are gems to be found among the increasing trove of self-produced independent records, and Virbrainium is a prime example of an album that deserves wider exposure. Massey is a young Ohio-based drummer who has come to New York and formed an impressive, cohesive band, the Nue Jazz Project. He claims allegiance to the swing savvy of Max Roach and Roy Haynes and the compositional prowess of Brian Blade and Jeff "Tain" Watts, but there's also a bit of Elvin Jones in the way his cymbals bodyguard the rhythm while his spare, dynamic combinations create space for the fiery frontline soloists.
Best among these cohorts is saxophonist Ben Drazen, who teams with Massey and bassist David Ostrem on a scintillating rendition of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge," that brandishes some of Henderson's thorny phrasing, but also has a headlong gush, pause, and roam in its rhythm that allows Drazen to claim the piece as at least partly his own. A measured solo-drum composition from Massey (very spongey and Roach-inflected) provides the segue from "Inner Urge" into Chick Corea's "Windows," a delicate showcase for pianist Evgeny Lebedev. But perhaps the best reason to keep an eye on Massey is the concept and execution of his ambitious title track, obviously influenced by Wayne Shorter, with ingenious harmonies and a cat-and-mouse intensity that can blossom brilliantly like the vintage Coltrane quartet or cool off in quieter nooks that is partially the function of the changeover in soloists and partially a purposeful suite-like structure. It is a song that rewards repeated listenings, followed by Drazen's invigorating, also 'Trane-friendly, "Mr. Twilight," that serves as a satisfying finish.