Dave Brubeck: Watusi Drums

As the story goes, recounted by Dave Brubeck in his liner notes for the Quartet's In Europe album, he had written a number to feature tricky-time master Joe Morello, based on some half-remembered African rhythm. At first the tune had a changeable title, "Drums Along the …", with the final word filled in on stage, naming whatever river flowed near the city the four were playing in, from the Thames to the Vistula. Then in Iraq (yes, there were such tours), Dave heard again the original African recording and realized he had channeled some Watusi tribal music. So the "rivers" disappeared and the right name was affixed.

But the music flows on and on, in bubbling 6/4 time, no matter what the title. While the live performance on In Europe clocks in at 8 minutes – too much of a good thing – the shorter version appended to the CD reissue of Time In offers solid evidence that less can be more. This simplified studio take (with Paul Desmond silent) moves out right from the start, Morello's rippling, perpetual-motion power and Eugene Wright's stalwart walk freeing Dave to comment and punctuate, to dance all over the piano and even play some work-song blues, till the tuned-up trio engine chugs to a halt. Just 2+ minutes but well-nigh perfect.

April 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Roy Haynes: Sippin' at Bells

This trio record, a half-studio, half-live date in which Roy Haynes dedicates each tune to one of his favorite past musical partners, began the self-revitalizing, career-reflecting period of Roy Haynes's career. Most importantly, it asserted that Haynes's drumming had not deteriorated with age. In fact, the electricity heard throughout the live half of this album reveals some of Haynes's finest playing ever – recorded while in his mid 70s! It therefore comes as no surprise that his longstanding current band, formed slightly after this '99 date, is called the Fountain of Youth. If anyone has discovered that mythical spring, Roy Haynes has.

Danilo Perez and John Patitucci, who have since gone on to form half of the Wayne Shorter quartet, connect skillfully throughout this disc, weaving in and out of brief, open solo segments, while always leaving enough space for Haynes's drumming to remain front and center. Their quick reaction time, combined with a willingness to playfully engage in Haynes's every leading stroke, leads to exhilarating rhythmic improvisation.

Of special note here are the extended fours between Patitucci and Haynes that begin directly after the statement of the Miles Davis melody. Check out the two Haynes breaks starting at 1:20 and 1:42, respectively. In the first, he plays his trademark groupings of threes, broken up between his hands and left foot. Nine measures into the 12-measure break, he begins his run of threes again – this time shifted a beat back in time – so the placement isn't where you expect it until he reestablishes the beat at the very end. The second break has it all: Latin-influenced rhythms, rapid-fire 16th notes, and four final measures where he flips his rhythm between the downbeats and upbeats – and then flips those rhythms between his hands and his feet!

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Roy Haynes: Satan's Mysterious Feeling

After nearly 25 years of unrelenting playing and touring as a sideman to the stars, Roy Haynes changed course a bit come 1970, opting to run the first longstanding band of his career, The Hip Ensemble. It was an adventurous amalgamation of straight-ahead acoustic swing, avant-garde leaning improvisations, and intense, chugging funk. The group exposed the talents of tenor player George Adams, who would soon join forces with Charles Mingus, and trumpeter Marvin Hannibal Peterson, who would go on to play in Gil Evans's illustrious big band.

"Satan's Mysterious Feeling" is a fun, funky fusion track, complete with acoustic-horn front line, electric piano, and layers of percussion beneath Haynes's syncopated, 16th-note based groove. Haynes's choice to either leave space or add accents to the groove lends a funk/rock legitimacy to both the tune and the group, bringing to mind similarly conceived grooves by rock/fusion masters Tony Williams, Steve Gadd and Jack DeJohnette. With Haynes, Peterson, and Adams present, this track works as an honorable representative of 1970s funk/fusion, rather than the possible precursor to jam-band dullness it might otherwise have been.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Chick Corea: Windows

Now He Sings, Now He Sobs is one of the most essential jazz drumming recordings of the modern era. It marked the beginning of the second half of Roy Haynes's career, and suggested that he would continue innovating well into the post-bop era, just as he had in the previous bebop and hard-bop eras. His playing from start to finish changed how drummers approached playing in a piano trio.

First is the drum sound. The addition of a flat ride cymbal as his primary rhythmic weapon was revelatory. His smaller, higher-pitched drums were balanced perfectly by the quiet, shimmering hum of a flat ride – creating acoustic contrasts rarely before heard from a jazz drum kit. Haynes has altered his drum setup since this '68 session, but his flat-ride cymbal sound, coupled with his cranked metal snare drum, and ringy bass drum and toms have come to define the sound of the second half of his career. They've also become common choices for many other drummers.

"Windows," a mellow track in 3/4 time, features Haynes's prolonged 4-over-3 polyrhythms throughout. When these measure-long polyrhythms are combined with his constant blurring of barlines, his playing creates an upsurge of forward momentum that's simply impossible to stop. Playing a waltz was of course nothing new by 1968, but these three masters invented a kind of new waltz style that blurs the lines of 3/4 with the rhythmic elasticity heard throughout this track.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Roy Haynes: Snap Crackle

In the late 1950s and '60s, Roy Haynes rededicated himself to the New York freelance scene. He took a walk on the wild side with such artists as Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard, Steve Lacy, and Andrew Hill, performed straight-ahead dates with Phil Woods, Kenny Burrell, and Stan Getz, and accompanied singers Jackie Paris, Shirley Scott, and Ray Charles. So when it came time to assemble a group for his own date, Haynes cleverly combined the experimental-yet-grounded Rahsaan Roland Kirk and the classicism of pianist Tommy Flanagan, producing one of the more rewarding combinations of soloists in jazz.

This track features the hyper-energized, prodding-and-stabbing drumming on smaller, high-pitched drums that led Haynes to acquire the very nickname of "Snap Crackle." Kirk offers a nice down-&-dirty solo here, but the drum solo is the sure highlight. Note how Haynes begins with brief 16th-note calls and responses, followed by 6 or 7 measures of offbeat 8th-note melodic patterns. He then begins the same process over again, this time extending the 16th-note runs for 10 measures, and the subsequent offbeat 8th-note runs for 12 or so. This clever, large-scale plan of laying a thoughtful foundation for improvisation is the very essence of Haynes's sound.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Sveti: Don't Be Sad

Drummer Marko Djordjevic has written a very beautiful ballad in "Don't Be Sad." The melody is a simple plea. After an introductory guitar harmonic strum, trombonist Elliot Mason carries most of the water on the piece. (For the trombone curious, Eliot Mason sounds similar to Garnett Brown.) Djordjevic uses plenty of brush and cymbal to help him along. Elliot's brother Brad joins him, on what sounds like flugelhorn, for some of the pensive theme. Apparently these guys come as a team. Bassist Matt Pavolka and guitarist Lionel Loueke add some lush acoustic support. "Don't Be Sad" is an effective soothing agent that is sure to give you some of the understanding and support you need through a difficult time. But you will like this music even if you are happy.

February 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Sveti: Dundjer

Serbian drummer Marko Djordjevic has been leading the Sveti fusion group in some form or another since the early 1990s. Djordjevic is a busy guy with the sticks. That describes his drumming, not his gig load. This guy gets after it. He is all over the kit and probably on other things too. The main melodic thrust of "Dundjer" is supplied by the brothers Elliot and Brad Mason. They are advertised as great individual musicians but even better as a team. One listen to their horn interplay will verify such claims. There is a bit of early Miles Davis fusion on display in the guitar riffs, chords and spatial quality. (Think A Tribute to Jack Johnson and Live-Evil for the guitar; think Billy Cobham's Crosswinds and Spectrum for the drumming and a few horn and guitar riffs.) Despite the heritage of most of the musicians, the tune has fewer Eastern European stylistic influences than one might expect. Due to the sound blast, I am not quite sure all of the above listed musicians perform on this cut, but whoever is playing is virtuosic. Sveti produces a compelling sound. Anyone interested in progressive jazz, jazz-fusion or world music will find the band's work worthy of shelf space or a few megabytes of download capacity.

February 20, 2009 · 1 comment


Duke Ellington (featuring Louie Bellson): Skin Deep

A few years after this recording, rock bands would discover the allure of long, intense drum solos. This was more than mere bombast—there is solid clinical evidence that prolonged exposure to powerful rhythms impacts a listener's brain rhythms and creates a trance-like state. Well, long before Ginger Baker and Keith Moon, there was Louie Bellson, who actually was the pioneer who developed the two-bass-drum-setup adopted by these later mega-rockers. And Bellson also was a master of the supersize drum solo, as demonstrated on this seminal performance with the Duke Ellington band. Ellington himself was just beginning to experiment with the potential for longer recorded tracks unleashed by the LP format (this same album also featured his brilliant tone poem Harlem, perhaps my favorite of his extended works), and with one of the great swing percussionists in the band, the time was also ripe for a big drum feature. "Skin Deep" did not disappoint. This Bellson original created quite a stir at the time, and still stands out as one of the defining performances of big band drumming. Bellson not only shows off his formidable technique, but also proves that he could build a solo over the course of several minutes while keeping the audience focused on his every move. If you want to take the measure of Mr. Bellson, one of the finest drummers of the Swing (or any) Era, this is the place to begin.

February 16, 2009 · 2 comments


Jeff "Tain" Watts: Return of the Jitney Man

If you didn't know the name of the bandleader, you might think the CD title Watts referred to the high-voltage luminescence of the all-star ensemble gathered here. Certainly no one can complain that the wattage—or the Watt-age—isn't high enough on this track. This is clearly the drummer's date. After the melody statement, the waves of percussion overwhelm McBride's bass (perhaps Christian didn't show up the day they did the mix, or maybe the producer, a Mr. J. Watts, decided on the balance), and with no chordal instrument to counter the attack, Tain sounds like a one-man rhythm section. And a fine one at that. Branford Marsalis responds with a very free, very hot solo, and shows he doesn't need conventional chord changes to impart a sense of structure to his improvisations. Blanchard follows in a very aggressive mood, yet I am struck by how beautiful his sound is even when he is trying to be raw and out. In fact, each of these four players comes across as more "out" here than you might expect, given their individual histories and predilections. But while so many "freedom-is-still-now" musical manifestos provide more heat than light, the Watt-age here keeps things bright.

January 30, 2009 · 1 comment


Vinnie Cutro: Blues for Roy

With an explosive introductory drum solo by the inimitable Billy Hart, "Blues for Roy" is the perfect high- tempo blowing vehicle for these musicians to let it all hang out. Jay Anderson does a commendable job laying down relentlessly walking basslines behind Hart's splashing cymbals and crashing toms. Charles Blenzig likewise does a nice turn on the keys with a rapid-fire solo that takes some surprising twists and turns, especially when he demonstrates how he can separate time between hands with no loss of continuity. Jerry Bergonzi solos mid-course and demonstrates why he always has the potential to be incendiary. Leader Vinnie Cutro has a hard act to follow, but comports himself well with his own atmospherics.

With the featured playing of Hart dominating the intro and the final solo, "Blues for Roy" might justly be called "Blues for Billy to Swing On." Hart demonstrates why he is one of the most sought-after drummers on the scene today. His enthusiastic wellspring of polyrhythmic ideas is a joy to behold and the surprise gem of this piece.

January 21, 2009 · 0 comments


Tony Williams: Neptune: Creatures of Conscience

"Neptune: Creatures of Conscience" is the third and final part of an unnamed suite. The song is a true showcase for one of the greatest jazz drummers who ever lived. I would describe the tune as a series of drum breaks buoyed by complicated, syncopated unison melody lines. The music is performed with great skill. It is not easy to be this tight. The sidemen sound fantastic, but they are here mainly for support of Williams's chops. Making the obvious even more so, Williams's drums appear louder in the mix than the rest of the ensemble. The melody makers provide the accents on this performance.

So how does Williams sound? What kind of stupid question is that! He sounds great. He plays with a controlled fury and a rhythmic imagination only he possessed.

January 08, 2009 · 0 comments


Mike Clark: Loft Funk

Mike Clark was immortalized for his mercilessly funky rhythms on Herbie Hancock's 1974 fusion classic Thrust. Thirty-five years later he can still lay down "Palm Grease" licks, and what's even more remarkable is that he can propel a groove just as hard with an all-acoustic band, as he does here on "Loft Funk." Selecting the right personnel for this task helped. Christian McBride's standup bass is so in the pocket with Clark, he makes you wonder why Fender bothered to create an electric bass. Patrice Rushen's syncopated comping completes an airtight and righteous rhythm section. The horn-led theme sounds like something the late Eddie Harris could have dreamed up; later, Donald Harrison even slips a Harris quote into his solo. "Loft Funk" is an organically deep groover with no additives or preservatives.

January 08, 2009 · 0 comments


Buddy Rich: Norwegian Wood

Though the power and audacity of Bill Holman's arrangement contrasts with the light folksiness of John Lennon's original, there are also elements in common. The booming low brass pedal notes recall the drone of George Harrison's sitar, and the harmonic movement and melodic content is charmingly minimal. Like the Beatles' version, Holman's arrangement is focused on shifting texture and overlaying counterpoint, only on a more massive scale. The energy peaks on the final bridge (replete with Jim Trimble's trombone freak-out) and the last fortissimo unison verse backed by screaming trumpet shakes, multiple contrapuntal lines and Rich's ferocious drumming. Just when your ears are about to explode, everything drops out and guitarist Richard Resnicoff tags the final four bars by himself. An exhilarating chart by the hardest swinging big band of the 1960s.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington (featuring Sonny Greer): Ko-Ko (live 1940)

While Sonny Greer was sometimes described as a casual or erratic timekeeper, he was also known as a subtle and discreet drummer who fit the Ellington orchestra perfectly, since the arrangements Duke's musicians played were all about voicings, coloration, textures and dynamics. When Greer sat amongst his elaborate configuration (except for one-night stands like this) of snare, tom-toms, bass drum, cymbals, timpani, vibes, chimes and gong, you might have thought he was the leader of the band, yet he was primarily there to supply a complementary rhythmic foundation, not to perform showy solos like a Gene Krupa or a Buddy Rich. Greer did this for Duke from 1927 to 1951.

The Fargo, ND, dance date recording of "Ko-Ko" is a very clear example of Greer's prowess, as well as his remarkable rapport with the great bass innovator Jimmy Blanton. The arrangement and execution may be lacking compared to the tune's classic original studio recording from earlier that year, but the performance is just as exciting, thanks in part to Blanton and Greer. This version of the blues piece is levitated initially by Greer's bass drum and Blanton's pulsating bass, the rhythms somewhat a throwback to Duke's old "jungle" style. The harmonically sophisticated intricacies of the call-and-response riffs and vamps between the saxes, trumpets and trombones, Nanton's charged plunger-muted solo, Blanton's provocative fills, and the powerful crescendo ending with its return of the jungle beat, all combine to make this a prime Ellington track.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Andrew Hill & Chico Hamilton: Watch That Dream

This 2008 CD draws on a session from 1993 matching pianist Andrew Hill and drummer Chico Hamilton. Generally the bass serves as intermediary between these two instruments, and when it is absent you expect each player to work all the harder to lock into his partner's respective groove. Yet the exact opposite happens throughout this entire session: both Hill and Hamilton seem to pursue their own individual vision on each song, and rarely have the same rhythmic conception in mind. This might seem a recipe for disaster, but the results are fascinating. Here Hill builds his performance on disjunction and displacement while Hamilton offers up a shimmering percussive flow. These two grand stylists both stake out their territory, and neither one budges. This continues to the end of the song—indeed, it is especially evident at the conclusion of the piece, since the two players appear to have a very different concept of closure here. Yet somehow a whimsical, attenuated relationship develops between their respective gambits. Riveting jazz . . . but I don't think many musicians could pull this off.

October 22, 2008 · 0 comments


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