Devils Paradise is a brawny quartet date nominally led by drummer Gerry Hemingway, but played out in thoroughly democratic fashion with his cohorts tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, trombonist Ray Anderson and the ubiquitous bass wizard Mark Dresser. The four bash hard, setting up tough grooves and deep pedal-toned vamps — the bass and drums laying down solid foundations for the simple, catchy themes over which Eskelin and Anderson play unfettered solos. It's a lot of fun. But there's more to it than that. The casual quality that each player exudes sits atop a solid core of technique and accomplishment.
The title tune, for example, hits a rhythmic pocket propelled by a funky, quasi second-line drum figure. But listen a little closer. There's an underlying sense of menace in Ray Anderson's trombone growls and slurs or Ellery Eskelin's emotional squeals. Think Mingus meets the Meters and you're close. It's funny, absolutely. But it's no joke. Check out Mark Dresser ripping the strings off the bass on "Johnny's Corner Song" and you'll hear what I mean. This is jazz that manages to push the envelope while harkening back to the music's earliest history. "Full Off" manages to incorporate roadhouse blues, straight ahead post-bop, funk and out jazz (propelled mightily by Hemingway's drumming) in a way that coheres completely. There's not a weak moment in Devils Paradise.