Albums from the past 365: Rudy Royston’s 303

by Grant Larson

I have to admit that when I first saw that drummer Rudy Royston was releasing his first album as a leader, I was pretty excited to take a listen. I heard Royston play live for the first time in 2005 at Dazzle Jazz in Denver, CO. At the time, I was a budding musician that had just relocated to Boulder, CO for graduate school at the University of Colorado. Royston left a strong impression on me with his lively, melodic, and tasteful playing. Those qualities certainly are on display in his recently released album 303.

This post will provide listeners with some in-depth thought on the album as a whole, the individual tunes, and the featured musicians. The reviews of the album (by several great reviewers – Nate Chinen in the New York Times, Dan Bilawsky on, and Frank Alkyer in DownBeat magazine) have been very positive. Here are my thoughts.


303 is Royston’s reference to the area code where he grew up, lived, and worked for many years – Denver, CO. He states this about his album:

“The music on this project is a tribute to the sites and people, the sounds and scenes, the music and amazing musicians I grew up appreciating and from whom I learned so much. It is eclectic, funky, swinging and vibey, energetic and engaging.”

Royston describes his music and this album well. The first track, “Mimi Sunrise”, sets the vibe that he speaks about. It has an atmospheric feel, created by an urban-type groove created by pianist Sam Harris and Royston.This tune gives the listener a taste of what is to come.

“Play on Words” gives us our first instance to hear improvisation by the musicians on the album. Nir Felder’s guitar solo fits the energy of the tune, and features some nice communicative moments between he and Royston. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon’s playing is fiery and harmonically contemplative, yet still controlled. Harris and Irabagon’s trading keeps the energy going throughout the tune. Personally, I wish the soloists were given a bit more freedom and able to solo longer. “Goodnight Kinyah” is a beautiful, flowing composition that features equally beautiful solos by Irabagon and trumpeter Nadja Noordhuis.

For better or worse, the listener has to wait until track 5 to hear Royston’s full power as a drummer. “Gangs of New York” ends with a booming, energetic explosion of percussive color. It is this type of energy on the album that reminds me of Royston’s live performances.

There are a few tunes – i.e. “Miles To GO” – on this album that feel somewhat transitional in nature. These tracks are instrumentals that primary just feature a simple melody with no solos. Although they serve as a nice break for the listener, the lack of improvisation, and compositional direction are a little dissapointing. Several of the other tracks make up for this, such as the title track “303”. Jon Irabagon once again shows off his creative side with a great solo on “303” (the track follows “Miles To Go”). Royston’s playing is also fantastic on “303”.

I am always curious to hear jazz musicians’ interpretations of classical compositions. Here, Royston’s band reworks Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus”. The tune takes on an ethereal feel, full of color and emotion. Nice vibe, but again it would be nice to hear more room for soloists, especially the soulful playing of Nadja Noordhuis.

Overall, Rudy Royston’s 303 is a good listen. The music on this album is just as he describes it – funky, swinging and vibey, energetic and engaging.

Albums From the Past 365 is a series of record reviews by saxophonist Grant Larson. Find out more about Grant on his website –


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