Beat it up: Drummers snare the spotlight
January 11, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoQ: What do you call a guy who’s always hanging out with musicians?A: A drummer.Pity the poor drummer. The little drummer boy generally gets pushed to the back of the stage, hidden behind his ‘trap,’ gets the spotlight for his three-minute drum solo (which many audience members take as a signal to use the bathroom).Drummers, however, are more than mere skin-banging timekeepers. Colorado seems to have had its share of music-minded drummers: Ginger Baker, the mad banger for Cream as well the leader of a fine jazz ensemble, called the state home for years (for a real treat, check out the wonderful “Coward of the County,” credited to Ginger Baker & the DJQ20). Dave Watts, before he led the Colorado groove group the Motet, was leader and songwriter of Boston jam-band Shockra. Michael Travis, drummer for String Cheese Incident, has had a variety of projects, including the electronica trio, Zilla. Here in the valley, John Michel not only handles the drumming chores for Take the Wheel, but sings and writes, and has also been a regular solo performer on guitar and vocals.Following are reviews of recent CDs where the drummer is being more than the guy with the sticks.Tim O’Reagan, “Tim O’Reagan”produced by O’Reagan & John Woodland (Lost Highway)In his time drumming with the Jayhawks, Tim O’Reagan contributed songs and vocals, but mostly took a backseat in those departments to the likes of bandleader Gary Louris. On his solo debut, O’Reagan shows he has vast musical talents – and that he absorbed much from his Jayhawks mates. The big cast here features the Jayhawks’ Louris, Mark Olson and Marc Perlman, and that band’s trademark contemporary take on Byrds-like folk-rock. But O’Reagan wrote all the songs, takes the lead on vocals, and also chips in on guitar, bass and harmonica. Jayhawks fans will not be disappointed in the results.Take the Wheel, “Take the Wheel”produced by Take the WheelTake the Wheel, the local trio that grew out of the disbanded Little Blue, recorded its eponymous debut at Memphis’ famed Ardent Studios. “Take the Wheel” features two songs with drummer John Michel credited as the lead writer: “Tangled” and “Better You Than Me.” Both are cut from the same mold – folk-rock built around acoustic guitar, Michel’s lead vocal and, in “Tangled” especially, sophisticated harmonies. Both also show that Michel is thinking about more than basic rhythms when he’s back there drumming. The songs in which guitarist Damian Smith and bassist Michael Jude take the lead tend closer to classic hard rock. The CD opens with the shredding guitar notes of “Butterfly,” and follows with “Raise Up Your Glass” and “Brother Sun,” songs that prove Michel can bang when he wants to. Throughout the CD, Take the Wheel demonstrates an ability to mix the rough and gentle, in words and sound, usually in the same song.The Cirque Bar & Grill in Snowmass Village features après-ski music by Take the Wheel on Saturdays, the Damian Smith Trio on Wednesdays, and acoustic sets by Take the Wheel on Thursdays, through January. In addition, Michel and Jude perform at Bistro Basalt on Friday nights.
The Motet, “Instrumental Dissent”produced by Dave WattsThe backbone of Colorado’s Motet actually features two percussionists: Watts, who plays the trap kit, and New Orleans native Scott Messersmith on percussion. The rest of the group has been a rotation of guitarists, singers, saxophonists and more. On their fifth CD, the lineup is more expansive than ever – a sextet, with another three horn players listed as special guests – and so is the music. From the opening tune, “Afro Disco Beat,” Watts is intent on moving the Motet from its emphasis on old-school instrumental funk into more modern, techno-aided terrain. The title track is built around samples of the words of protest by writers Arundhati Roy, Alice Walker, Noam Chomsky and more – and gives the mostly lyric-free “Instrumental Dissent” a dash of political flavor to go with the deep grooves. Harry Belafonte’s anti-war sentiments kick off the snaky “Music Is the Weapon.” It adds up to the Motet’s finest recording yet.Stanton Moore, “III”produced by Moore and Mike Napolitano (Telarc)Stanton Moore steps out of his customary role as drummer of the New Orleans funk-jazz band Galactic again on “III,” his third solo CD. Moore replaces the groove cats from Galactic with more groove players: keyboardist Robert Walter, from the Greyboy Allstars and his own Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, and guitarist Will Bernard, with special guests, saxophonist Skerik and trombonist Mark Mullins. Moore doesn’t write here; Walter gets most of the song credits, with the rest of the material coming from jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, Led Zeppelin (“When the Levee Breaks,” no doubt a tribute to Moore’s hometown of New Orleans), and the traditional spiritual “I Shall Not Be Moved.” But Moore’s drumming, and overall vision, is evident here, with a huge dose of modern New Orleans funk as the highly infectious foundation.Zilla, “All Iz”produced by Aaron Holstein, Michael Travis & Jamie Janover (Sci Fidelity)The Colorado trio Zilla is a democratic collaboration between bassist Aaron Holstein, hammered dulcimer player Jamie Janover, and drummer Michael Travis. All three, in fact, play a variety of instruments, many of them unusual: The instrumentation on “All Iz” includes MalletKAT and nose flute (Travis), sitar, electric kalimba and tanpura/swarmandal (Janover), and vocoder (Holstein). But the most recognizable figure of the three is Travis, the drummer for String Cheese Incident. On the two-disc studio CD “All Iz,” the threesome make a mesmerizing brand of techno-funk, improvised, as is all of their music, from scratch, on the spot.String Cheese, incidentally, is at a crossroads, having announced that founding guitarist Billy Nershi will leave the band after this summer. They have made no further statement about the future, but Travis seems to have a place in his mind for Zilla. “All Oz” is the group’s third CD in less than two years.Zilla plays the Fox Theatre in Boulder tonight, and the SkiJam in Steamboat Springs on Saturday, Jan. 13.
Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle, “Battery Milk”(Hyena)Mike Dillon, drummer for avant-funk groups Garage a Trois and Critters Buggin, takes another step away from the mainstream and into the experimental with his new Go-Go Jungle. On “Battery Milk,” Dillon leaves the drums to Go-Go Ray Pollard and moves over to the vibraphone, with some tabla and percussion thrown in. The sound is different – the vibraphone is unmistakable – but the concept is the same one Dillon is always chasing, taking instrumental music out to the edges. It is music that Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, jazz’s two vibes guys extraordinaire, could never have foreseen. Too bad for them.Benevento/Russo Duo, “Play Pause Stop”produced by Matt Chamberlain and Tom Biller (Butter Problems/Reincarnate)Drummer Joe Russo better have a lot of music in him; the only other musicians holding this thing up is keyboardist Marco Benevento. But on “Play Pause Stop,” their second studio recording, the Duo does a remarkable job of filling up the space with thick, rock-inspired soundscapes that manage to hint at melody – and even song structures.Keith Moon, “Two Sides of the Moon”produced by Skip Taylor (Castle/Sanctuary)OK, Keith Moon, the late, legendary drummer for the Who, was no great singer, or even a consummate, all-around musician. But give the guy his due; he was one of rock’s great drummers and characters. And on his one-and-only (thank goodness) solo album, 1974’s “Two Sides of the Moon,” he was at least good for a surprise or nine. Would you have guessed Moon to cover the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” or the Beatles’ reflective “In My Life” – or to hand over most of the drumming chores to a cast that included Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner? (The rest of the lineup includes Joe Walsh, Spencer Davis, Klaus Voorman, David Bowie, Ricky Nelson and Harry Nilsson.) It’s appropriately goofy, perfectly in line with Moonie. This two-CD deluxe edition features such outtakes as “Hot Rod Queen,” “We Wish You a Merry Xmas,” “My Generation” and some chat between Moon and Starr.Scott Amendola Band, “Believe”produced by Amendola and Jeff Gauthier (Cryptogramophone)Scott Amendola has drummed with the widest array of musicians: Charlie Hunter and Tony Furtado, Primus and Bill Frisell. “Believe” is the third CD by his own band, a cutting-edge jazz combo that features violinist Jenny Scheinman and guitarist Nels Cline playing Amendola’s edgy, imaginative compositions, ranging from the dense (“Oladipo”) to the minimalist (“Shady”).
Jimmy Cobb, “Marsalis Music Honors Jimmy Cobb”produced by Branford Marsalis (Marsalis Music/Rounder)Saxophonist Branford Marsalis serves as curator for a series on his own label; for the first round of releases, he selected drummer Jimmy Cobb. (The other initial honoree was another drummer, Michael Carvin.) Cobb was the drummer on some of Miles Davis’ – and jazz’s – most essential music, appearing on the landmark 1959 album “Kind of Blue.” This album places Cobb in a quartet setting – pianist Ellis Marsalis, bassist Orlando Fleming and saxophonist Andrew Speight – for new recordings of old material, including a handful of Cobb’s own tunes.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org