“Onomatopoeia” is a word that describes a sound. M’Boom is an onomatopoeic expression. I’ve always thought of it as bass drum to floor tom and cymbal — MMMM-BUM. Tympany. This piece is a perfect example of seamless transition; not a lot of stops and starts. Themes and phrases overlap and others emerge—one thing happens, an undercurrent of something under it comes to the forefront, this recedes, something else comes in. Polyphony all the time, shifting dynamics, the different instruments introduced in a staggered way. The piece is in 11, it starts off with the chimes, then the vibes and marimba enter, then after that’s established, the tympany and drumset come in, which kind of solo over that hemiola that’s repeating in 11—that’s Omar and Joe on drums, I believe, and Warren on tympany. That’s the first portion of the song. Then they make a transition. They stay in 11, but instead of playing 11 quarter notes, they start playing 4 half-notes and 3 eighth-notes, and they go from the marimba and vibes to membrane. I remember playing this song, and they would always be like, ‘Membrane! Membrane!”—meaning going to the skins. If you’re playing a timbale, play the center of the timbale; if you’re playing congas, the center of the conga. No rims. That creates an interesting counter to the xylophone, which is in a different type of register. Max takes the xylophone solo.
Max always used to tell me, “Get to your shit quick” when you’re soloing. He’d go, “Yeah, you’re making some nice statements, but get to your shit quick.” In live performances it might have been different, but for this recording everyone gets their ideas out quick. Regardless how wild or expressive they may be, there’s always that very clear message, to me—not only from Max, but everybody. Warren Smith takes a solo on tympany after Max, then they transfer the phrase from the membrane to the rims—in other words, to the metal. Then he takes a solo on the membrane of a tympany. It switches up. That theme also occurs in a lot of Max’s work, whether solo or with bands—a juxtaposition of different feelings or sounds or meters against each other.
All the members of M’Boom were adept at making those types of rhythmic changes and comfortable with that variation, to the point where the transition from one to the other was seamless. The different textures create a different feeling for the listener. In certain instances, it creates a sense of power, and then when they go to the metal, it sounds a little more frenetic, more like an anticipation of the climax, which is coming next.
October 15, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
You need to find a place for this 1959 session on any list of unlikely success stories from the 20th century music business. Drums of Passion would sell five million copies in the US alone, most of them purchased by listeners who had no previous acquaintance with what we now call "world music." In one fell swoop, the minstrelized-ethnic-music of Les Baxter, Martin Denny and the other purveyors of ersatz exotica was put out to pasture, and the real thing arrived on the scene. And the general public—mirabile dictu!—was able to tell the difference.
The story behind the story is just as fascinating. A fellowship from the Rotary Foundation allows Michael Babatunde Olatunji to leave Ajido, a fishing village in Nigeria, and come to Morehouse College, the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1954 he moves to New York, where he starts performing with his drumming-chanting-singing-dancing ensemble. Legendary talent scout John Hammond was so impressed with what he heard that, breaking every rule of the A&R trade, he signs Olatunji to record this music, unadorned and unadulterated, for the largest label in the land.
The late Tom Terrell has insisted, with more than a little plausibility, that Drums of Passion deserves acknowledgment as the most important recording of the last century. Honestly, just fast forward a few years and see the impact. In the 1960s, John Coltrane and a host of other jazz artists begin exploring the potential of a re-Africanization of jazz music. In rock and popular music, the drums take on a new centrality and intensity. A return-to-the-roots attitude begins to permeate blues, folk music and other genres. The musical riches of the Third World increasingly show up, either in their original form or as models for imitation, on the rosters of the entertainment mega-corporations. Drums of Passion stands out as the turning point that legitimized and accelerated these processes.
This opening track, inspired by the call of a well-known conductor in Nigeria and sound of his train, is a powerful statement of this new aesthetic vision. The immediacy and intensity of this music demands the listener's attention, but one also hears a confidence and pride that expands our consciousness beyond purely musical considerations. Yes, you can put this music on as background music (as no doubt many record buyers have done over the years) but the sensibilities is combines and the passions it contains would soon be at the foreground of modern life. One of the defining qualities of African music is its insistence on integrating music-making into the fabric of day-to-day life, and this recording symbolized a similar reorientation in its new setting. That, my friends, is making more than just a hit; it's making history.
September 18, 2009 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
Meet the cast. We have Nicky Skopelitis, the eclectic American string player of Greek heritage (you name it, he has played it at some point … lute, oud, banjo, and—yes!—guitar); Indian violinist L. Shankar, who has recorded with John McLaughlin, Frank Zappa, Yoko Ono and lots of other diverse artists; Aïyb Dieng, a percussionist from Senegal; Cuban conga drummer Daniel Ponce; and, of course, the bassist and master of the soundscapes, Bill Laswell. I am surprised Laswell didn't add a didgeridoo player, so that he could have every continent covered. Not that there is much lacking in the collective CVs of these players. If someone can get these diverse views of rhythm to peacefully coexist, there may be hope for mankind yet.
And not only do they coexist, they flourish. This band sounds like they have been playing together for decades, so natural and seamless is the interaction. My ears are especially drawn to Zakir Hussain's tabla, but everyone gets an A+ in this class. Especially Mr. Laswell, who had the brilliance—and courage—to pull off this awe-inspiring collaboration.
November 19, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
If you listen to what Milford Graves and Sunny Morgan are up to here, there is a wealth of interactions and textures to contemplate. From the first clipped hi-hat segment to the various call and response interludes, Graves and Morgan build loads of tension, dispersing it at will as they shift off in other directions (the bells over the gong a few minutes in are particularly nice).
Not music? C'mon, you're kidding, right?
September 22, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
July 18, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
May 21, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
"Baba" begins with an Aboriginal basso buffo of sorts. Saxophonist Jan Garbarek answers these funny- sounding deep voices in the wind with a more serious intent. Soon he introduces the slow and somber melody as Gurtu pounds a thudding backbeat. Gurtu takes advantage of open space by filling it with percussion from every source within his reach. Garbarek's playing is labor intensive and performed at a snail's pace. Yet the lugubrious melody is maintained. An Eastern-style funk, led by bassist Fiszman, speeds things up a bit and provides even more opportunities for Gurtu's percussion bag of tricks. "Baba" is really a percussion solo with the melody taking second fiddle. Those of you familiar with Gurtu's solos know that this is a very good thing.
May 14, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
May 06, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
April 12, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
Gurtu has released many worthwhile recordings on his own over the years. He is clearly one of the fathers of the burgeoning Indian world and jazz music movement. (In case you haven't heard, India is where the jazz shit is really happening these days!) "Shobharock" is a piece of work, named in honor of Gurtu's mother, Shobha Gurtu. An accomplished Indian vocalist who passed away in 2004, Shobha raises her voice to great effect on this fusion number. The theme is ushered in by a low drone. The great Indian classical violinist L. Shankar, or just "Shankar" as he appears in the credits, divulges the tune's mesmerizing theme over Gurtu's Western-style drumming. Gurtu will change his percussion character several times during this excursion. Swedish bassist Jonas Hellborg maintains the bottom with a relentless precision groove. The group sound is overwhelming in its scope. Jazz trumpeter Don Cherry has a solo. Oregon's fine guitarist Ralphe Towner takes his turn. Truth be told, there is really too much going on here. But "Shobharock" is an ethnically and stylistically mixed musical mosh that is well worth the sensory overload.
March 26, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
March 21, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
DeRenzo is a very gifted musician, composer and arranger. Perhaps because of that 15-year hiatus, he approaches music with a fresh and open mind. This is quite evident on "iEartoe parts I & II," his tribute to the great Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira. The tune is purposely reminiscent of Airto's old recordings on the CTI label. DeRenzo and fellow percussionist Richie Gajate-Garcia create a Brazilian landscape with shakers and sundry percussion oddities. Vocalist Anne Walsh enters with her own heartfelt tribute to Airto's wife, the wonderful singer Flora Purim. On part II, pianist Tom Zink and saxophonist Glen Berger continue the theme, now joyful and bouncy. DeRenzo plays it Brazilian cool in the background as Gajate-Garcia camps it up both on voice and percussion to the tune's end. DeRenzo is not out to blow people away. He is out to have fun. On this tune, and on the album it comes from, he succeeds in a contagious way.
February 22, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
January 31, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
October 25, 2007 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
October 25, 2007 · 0 commentsTags: percussion
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