Odd Meter Clave for Drumset by Conor Guilfoyle

Contrast by Rusty Burge

Blessing in Disguise by Eric Nemeyer

Misconception by Ted Hogarth

Soul Eyes by Craig Russo

CD (and Book) Reviews

by Don Skoog

Independent releases in percussion, Jazz, Latin/Jazz, and anything else that takes my fancy

You will need Quicktime to listen to the sound samples


El Lenguaje del Tambor and Batá Rhythms from Matanzas, Cuba

DVD and Book Set from
Kabiosile


     At last, a chance to write about batá drumming!* There’s so much bad information floating around about batá, that when I have a chance to write about a project which presents such important information so thoughtfully I’ve simply got to jump up-and-down pointing and shouting “Buy this, buy this!”
     Tina Gallagher is the driving force behind Kabiosile, a CD/DVD production company based in Matanzas, Cuba. (The word ‘kabiosile’ is lucumí for “Hail your majesty,” a greeting for Changó, the god of the batá drums.) She has assembled a production team which includes some of the best-known, and most knowledgeable, performers and scholars of the music, both in Cuba and the United States, in a true collaboration. They have produced a DVD/book combination that sets a new standard for scholarship in the field.

     El Lenguaje del Tambor (The Language of the Drum) is a two-disc, five-hour, DVD of master drummer, Daniel Alfonso, and his group (Maykel Gazmuri and Yosvany Oliver) demonstrating the rhythms of the Matanzas style Oro Seco, a set of rhythmic salutes to nineteen of the orishas. Disc One contains the Oro as it is played. Disc Two breaks the rhythms down pattern by pattern, drum by drum. The DVDs also contain interviews with the late Esteban"Chachá" Vega Baccallao and Daniel Alfonso, and the set of rhythms called The Close, which end the ceremony.
     Making this DVD must have been a backbreaking labor of love. The video quality and sound are excellent and the thoughtful editing allows for easy navigation through the sections.
     For those of us who play Havana-style batá, the Matanzas part of the tradition is something of a mystery. The drummers I know tend to roll their eyes when Matanzas is mentioned simply because none of us has the tools, the information, to crack the code. I’ve been to Matanzas several times for ceremonies and always came away confused, frustrated. It sounds so close, yet it’s so different! Even now, when watching the DVD I get that queazy feeling which tells me I’m truly expanding my conception of the music. This discomfort tells me I’m listening to something I need to hear. El Lenguaje del Tambor breaks down the patterns for those of us who really want to know how the music is structured.

     Batá Rhythms from Matanzas, Cuba contains musical scores of the rhythms, transcribed by Bill Summers and Neraldo Duran, and edited by Michael Spiro, Kevin Repp, and Vanessa Lindberg. Transcribing batå patterns is frustrating task for people who care about accuracy. This group has come up with some creative solutions for the various problems inherent in notating this complicated music. However, it would still be better to study these scores along with the DVD, which brings me to my one little quibble with the book: perhaps in the next edition they could put approximate tempo markings in the scores for those who don’t have access to the DVDs. Since there are so few recordings of Matanzas-style batá, it would be difficult to guess the tempos without this basic information. But that is a minor point. The transcriptions are very good, and while I’m no expert on Matanzas-style batá it is obvious that they match the performances on the DVD.
     To create a presentation that does justice to such a complex tradition, especially when there are few good guideposts to rely on, involves intelligence, creative (and collective) thinking, and most importantly, pig-headed determination. On her web site Tina says:

     Of course, I had no idea what this project would entail, and I will tell you honestly if I had known then what I know now, I don’t think I would have had the courage or energy to start it. It’s been massively complicated and has taken every bit of my 30 years of publishing, project management, and marketing experience to get it done. I've been working on it nonstop for nine months and I feel like I’m giving birth to triplets…

     A difficult project made more challenging because it’s also completely independent. It would have to be. No major publisher would bother with something so specialized (which just demonstrates that quality and marketability are two different things). Independent productions will save the world from the mind-numbingly bland media flood which produces stuff like American Idol. Thoughtful intellect still survives in projects like this, and with people who are more interested in doing important work than making a lot of money.
     Speaking of which, Tina tells us what she’s contemplating next:

     It’s going to take me a while to recuperate from this project…But I am in the planning stages for another, even more complicated one involving the Oro Cantado (the sung cycle of songs). Francisco "Minini" Zamora, of Afro Cuba de Matanzas fame, has agreed to be the singer, and Daniel and his crew will drum. I'm very excited about it...

     Buy this DVD/book set. By supporting Kabiosile’s work you’ll be helping yourself as well because no one else is producing materials this good in the Matanzas style of the batá drumming tradition, and we will all benefit from the work they are still doing.

El lenguaje del Tambor (2-disc DVD set, $49.95)
Batá Rhythms from Matanzas, Cuba (book, $39.95)
DVD/Book Set ($74.95)

Are available on Kabiosile’s web site: http://batadrumming.com
or you can contact Tina Gallagher directly at:tina@kabiosile.org

     *Actually, like everyone else, I’m writing a book on batá too, so why should I promote somebody else’s? Because it’s a really, really fine effort––one that has made me rethink my approach to my own.

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Odd Meter Clave for Drumset: Expanding the Rhythmic Language of Cuba

by Conor Guilfoyle

     I’m a pack rat, always have been. Every drum, score, record (45, 33 and 78 rpm), CD, video, DVD, and book that has ever crossed my path has been added to my pile if I had any say. I can pinpoint the genesis of my obsession to a chance remark that one of my teachers made in a lesson many years ago,”For musicians, knowledge is power.”
     I really took that to heart, but it’s been a mixed blessing. On the upside, I can lay my hands on just about any recording or lead sheet you can name. This is great when a client requests obscure music. On the downside, my mugshot is on the wall of every library (not post office) in the country as the evildoing, sticky-fingered miscreant who clumsily attempts to make off with every book he’s ever checked out (I’m banned in Vegas). I just tell them I lost the book, pay the fine, and put it on my shelf where it should have been in the first place. Over the years I have accumulated thousands of books, file cabinets full of sheet music, a wall of records, and a sea of CDs. So if knowledge is power don’t light a match near my house as the resulting explosion would leave a gaping hole in the ground (Although I’m sure my neighbors have considered it. Living next to a drummer has got to be a neurologically challenging experience).
     None of this makes up for the fact that I have one of the worst memories in recorded history. Like a thirsty man in the desert, I am surrounded by the water of knowledge with no bucket to haul it in. Not only can I not take it with me, but I can’t remember where it came from in the first place. So if I’m sitting in a lesson telling a student to hold his hand this way, or that Elvin did that with brushes, or this rhythm is interpreted like that, I start to wonder,”How the hell do I know this?” And if that wasn’t bad enough I’m also haunted by the idea that I have forgotten more music than I actually know. And, of course, there’s no way for me to check because, obviously, I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten. Or is there?
     One evening, I was sitting on the back porch, drinking a beer and lamenting my tabula raza status, when it dawned on me that there was a record of what I had learned. Seconds later I was in the basement pulling drum books out of file cabinets, trying to arrange them chronologically as well as by subject. Hours later I was still there, sitting on the floor surrounded by piles of yellowing, dusty paper. The experience was far more intense than I had expected. I was flooded with memories of my teachers and the lessons they gave me, brought nearly to tears by the wealth of emotion available only to those who have lived long enough to know that when a personal memory becomes general history something is irretrievably lost. Spread out on the floor was not only my story, but the story of drumming in America: the Chapin book, the Straight system, Ted Reed, Cusatis, the N.A.R.D, the Stone book, Goldenberg, and don’t forget Haskell Harr! Yeesh, what a legacy!
     (Poor Conor––a long-suffering friend of mine, by the way––is probably reading this right now, wondering when, and if, I’m ever going to get around to talking about his book. Bear with me, brother! We’re getting there!)
     Sitting there on the floor, I realized that my paper trail was only a hint of the story––a trickling stream that leads to the flowing creek of American drumming and finally to the flooding river of World Percussion––roaring through time and across geography––whose waves leave books behind the way glaciers leave boulders in farmer’s fields, stranded and out of place.
     Over the next few days (OCD victim that I am) I began to assemble all my drum books into both chronological order and by subject. It quickly became obvious that I could not only follow my own trail of bread crumbs back to the start of my journey, but I could also trace the trajectory of the art forward by watching the concept of the drum book evolve, each following the other: Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer becomes the Jazz Drummer’s Cookbook becomes New Orleans Jazz and Second Line Drumming. Knowledge, like silt, accumulates in quiet pools, and each layer forms a foundation for the next. If you were a new drum book on top of a stack of all the drum books ever printed you would see far because you were standing on the binders of giants.
     I read drum books the way other people read magazines (If you don’t believe me look in my bathroom). Each connects you directly to the person who wrote it and to the tradition he/she represents (Like Poncho Sanchez’ conga book with all the great recipes in it. I bet I’m not the only guy who’s cooked dinner, more than once, with the Conga Cookbook propped up on the kitchen counter). Like all guys who grew up playing from the Syncopation book, I marvel at the conceptual and philosophical advances we’ve made. (Anybody read West African Rhythms for Drumset? You don’t have to learn all Hartigan’s patterns––good thing too, because they’re hard––to love his book.) All these books become signposts on the trail, clues to the ever-changing landscape.
     Because of this ongoing evolution our newer drum books 1) have better, more logical material presentation, 2) present material within its cultural context, and most importantly 3) explore more original, more subjective ideas and concepts.
     This brings me, finally, to this month’s review of (and here Conor breathes a sigh of relief), Odd Meter Clave for Drumset: Expanding the Rhythmic Language of Cuba by Conor Guilfoyle.
     This is a book that could not have been written before. It is the result of that ongoing evolution which is recorded in the books strewn all over my basement floor. It is the creative, though logical, extension of the efforts to accurately transcribe the shapeshifting patterns played by Cuban drummers. It couldn’t have been written before because we just didn’t know enough about Cuban drumming to have built upon it the way he has. Until now.
     Conor’s presentation is actually quite simple. He explains the clave concept and demonstrates it in the rhythms of different Cuban musics (Mambo, Montuno, Songo, Guaguancó, Mozambique, Timba, 6/8, and Abakuá). Then he processes it through various odd time meters (5, 7, and 9). What makes this concept so intelligent is that it stays focused, not meandering off into the many tempting, structure-crushing sidetracks that would lure a less experienced author to his doom. He explains just enough about his own journey to demonstrate how he arrived at this particular musical crossroad, and he gives the readers enough cultural context and the proper tools to continue the exploration for themselves. And that is the challenge.
     While the concept may be simple, the results are not. This stuff is hard, “top shelf” as Conor likes to call it. This is not a book for the unprepared or casual student because, as complicated as Conor’s patterns seem, they are dwarfed by the essential need to connect them to the music as the Cubans play it and to extend the different concepts beyond the places where he left them. How do I use these ideas? Both projects are daunting, to say the least, and have given me more than one angst-ridden practice session. Cowed by the implications of what Conor was asking, I actually threw the book across the room one day, only to pick it up and start over. Intimidating as it was, Songo in 9 was still the most interesting thing I could think of at that moment.
     Most of you aren’t prone to the kind of existential crises that leave me sitting in a pile of old drum books with tears in my eyes, but you’d have to be really insensitive not to realize the implications of opening this book. Be forewarned, you are entering territory already occupied by the bloodthirsty Four-Way Coordination book and the masochistic New Breed. To stick your toe into this particular quagmire is to leave behind the student world of trying to play a rhythm stylistically correct (i.e. like everyone else) and to enter the creative realm where the patterns you play have no place in most music because most music has yet to catch up. Top shelf, indeed.

     
The CD that comes with the book is also really interesting but to get a better sense of how Conor really plays (and who is this Conor person, anyway?) go to:

conorguilfoyle.com

     There you can listen to sound samples from the book, check out the different bands he plays with, buy the book (duh . . .) and send him lots and lots of Email.

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Contrast


Rusty Burge

     I’ve gotten to the point where I really hate labels. Especially with music, to label a tune as this or that says I know where it fits, I know its place, when in fact every piece of original art creates a unique spot for itself.
     When I was young and ignorant, labels helped me sort out my vast and confusing new obsession: Music––I was overwhelmed to discover the depth of its history and the width of its geography––realizing that everything I knew was no more than a thin footnote in a thick book. Labels helped me place things: this is Jazz but this is Blues, this comes from India and this from Puerto Rico. But once you get the big picture organized you have to start subdividing: this is Punk but this is Grunge, this is Be Bop but this is Post Bop. And when you start to talk to other musicians you discover that none of them can agree on what belongs where.
     One problem is that some musics which sound completely different wind up in the same CD-store bin. One label says ”Brazil” but you can subdivide it by region (Northern or Southern), by style (Samba, Bossa, or Baiao), or by ethnicity (Euro- Indo- or Afro-Brazilian). And you can keep subdividing until you have dozens of overlapping categories and hundreds of differing opinions about which is what and where the boundaries are, or aren’t. My favorite example is Alternative. (When someone says this band is Alternative I just have to ask, “To What?”) I have heard both The Indigo Girls and Metallica called Alternative. If you can find something musically in common between those two your ears are way better than mine.
     Other musics sound the same but get lumped into different categories. I’m not even gong to get into that here. To make things worse, record companies encourage artists to create new labels for their music so that it’s more readily identifiable, and we wind up with Country Hip Hop, New Grass, and (God help us) Smooth Jazz. Artists even label themselves, as if trying to prove that they really exist, so unsuspecting music buyers are faced with bewildering categories like Acid Lounge, Life Metal, Hearts of Space, and Emo.
     If you are angling for a musicology grant then all this label making is heaven-sent. If you run a CD store, labels help you stock the shelves in a reasonable manner. If you own a record company, they help you target (and sometimes create) your market. But if you are a creative musician, labels come to represent the death of originality and the transformation of imagination into marketable product. Or worse yet, they become meaningless. At least they are for me. The truth is that any original musical concept is far too rich, its roots and influences far too varied, to be defined by any label.

     Which brings us to Contrast by Rusty Burge. A professor at the University of Cincinnati and a member of Percussion Group Cincinnati, Burge has good credentials on the street and in academia. He brings both to this recording.
     The music combines diverse instruments (vibes, marimba, piano, bass, drums, viola, Arabic tabl, Chinese cymbals, djembe) and ideas (Jazz song-forms and chords, atonal composition, non-structured improv), but Burge’s emphasis is on what these different instruments and ideas have in common, not what makes them different. This diversity creates a surprisingly unified whole because he focuses on the continuity of the sounds, not on the categories from which they were drawn. Contrast is a good name for this CD. Despite the different recording locations and acoustics, the variety of instrumentations, and the differing expertises of the musicians, Burge’s distinctive musical fingerprint is evident from beginning to end. The result is impossible to label. A CD-store owner would have no idea where to shelve this one.
     Contrast also seems to be a family project. Contributions by his wife, violist Belinda Reuning Burge, a drawing by his daughter, Emma, and Rusty’s performance of When Love Prevails, written by his father, David, provide a different kind of continuity. The other musicians: the Jazz guys, the Percussion Group Cincinnati, and tabl/djembe player, Dan Dorff, provide the contrasts.
     If you are a ditz-headed yuppie who thinks World Music means congas on track 3, or a Blues junkie who takes comfort in hearing the same three chords played endlessly to the grave, or a Pop fan who doesn’t get it unless you can sing along, you are not going to like this music. Contrast requires you to think as well as listen, and if you need to put a label on what you hear, you’ll be pretty disappointed. But for those of us who would rather barbecue our own children than sit through yet another easily labeled, cliche-ridden CD release, I can’t recommend Contrast highly enough.


Rusty Burge- Vibes and Marimba
Belinda Reuning Burge- Viola
Jim Connerley- Piano
Dan Dorff- Percussion
Michael Sharfe- Bass
Marc Wolfley- Drums
Allen Otte, James Culley, and Rusty Burge- Chinese Opera Cymbals

Check out his web site

Listen to Romance

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Blessing in Disguise

Eric Nemeyer

     What makes someone a good improviser? Technical control? Depth of concept? Originality? Knowledge of the tradition? Sense of taste? Sense of humor?
     Most non-musicians would probably say someone is good if they like him, without really considering why. Fact is, there are objective musical standards based on five hundred years of performance practice and theory. These standards are only good if those in the discussion understand them. If you are from the “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout music, but I knows what I like” school of thought then you won’t have much to contribute.
     It sounds snobby to say it but some music is demonstrably better than others, based on technical expertise, creativity, place within the tradition, note choice, etc. To understand what you’re hearing you have to do some homework. (I once spit beer through my nose when I heard a piano player say he never listened to other people’s music because it would contaminate his muse. What an idiot. Good music cannot be created in a vacuum. Like it or not, we are part of a continuum, and if you are too lazy or too arrogant to study it you’ll never know how, or if, you fit in.)
     But whether you like a player or not depends as much on you as on him. You judge music based on what you know (and how open-minded you are). There are people who only listen to the Blues. There are musicians who only play in one key. These are people who’ve set tight limits on their understanding, and their opinions reflect more on themselves than on the music. But we all hear new music in relation to the music we already know.
     The problem is that the larger my musical world becomes, the more I have to take into account when making assessments. For me, the whole process becomes increasingly complicated. I wonder if this is true for other musicians. I used to go to concerts and enjoy the music. Now, I spend the first half wrestling with a memory flood and an emotional reckoning which must be dealt with before I can listen to the music without a filter. If music can be objectively assessed, why do I experience it so subjectively?
     My definition of a dead art form is one in which any real innovation places the artist outside the genre––one where you must manifest clichés to be part of the style. Can Jazz musicians play squarely within the tradition and still be creative? Or conversely, if one choses to ignore the instrumental, harmonic, and structural conventions of a style, is he beyond the pale? Think of the reaction to Miles’ version of Time After Time. Has Jazz retreated from the innovative edge, or is it just fulfilling its potential from within?
     These are the questions I kept asking myself while listening to Blessing in Disguise. First off, I’ve got to say that I really love the way Nemeyer plays the vibes. He has a really nice touch on the instrument, a great sense of time, and a serendipitous concept of melody. As I listen to the CD, trying to decide why the solos are so attractive, I find myself becoming addicted. I keep going back to it 1) because I dig the playing and 2) because it raises questions for me that I really can’t answer.
     The tunes are a combination of standards and originals, which helps integrate the new with the old, but their instrumentation and playing style are very traditional. The hardest swinging is It Could Happen to You, the first tune on the CD (That’s just my opinion. You may disagree, so check it out for yourself.) The most daring is Bye Bye Blackbird. Re-recording standards is like remaking classic movies––sometimes it works . . . This time it was worth the effort. The solo vibe tune, Welcome Home, is the most imaginative and intellectually arresting composition on the CD, made more impressive since playing solo requires the performer to control the melody, harmony, and rhythm without any support (Hey Eric, can I get the sheet music for Welcome Home? I promise I won’t send you a recording of me playing it.)
     But despite the fact that I like the playing, I’m dismayed that the music fits me like an over-worn glove. It’s too comfortable. I yearn to be challenged, shocked, like a musical version of Fear Factor, where healthy young girls fall out of helicopters, only with a Coda. But I suspect that my reaction reflects more on me than on the music. After several decades of listening to and playing Jazz has my nervous system become so deeply grooved that only the most outrageous sounds can ring through as truly original? While it’s understandable that the romantic infatuations of my youth would be replaced with a more mature relationship with the music I love, I would hope that I could trade that obsession for a measure a certainty. It hasn’t worked out that way.
     So my suggestion is to buy this CD. Listen to it then e-mail to tell me what questions it raises for you. I never see discussions like this, perhaps because I’m the only one who has these kinds of doubts. Am I over-thinking this or do others ponder the relationship between standards and originality? Is it worth the effort to subjectively doubt the objective world, or should I just sit back and enjoy Nemeyer’s really fine band?


Eric Nemeyer, vibes
Tony Monaco, organ
Mark Elf, Curtis Weaver, guitar
Byron Landham drums
Donny McCaslin, sax
Valery Ponomarev, trumpet

Check out his Web site

Listen to It Could Happen to You

Eric's Response

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Misconception


The Ted Hogarth Collective


     Audiences like what they know. The musicians who play for them understand this well. Therefore, musicians play a lot of the same stuff over and over if they want to keep their audience happy. Because of that, much of today’s music has become cliché––the same tread-worn love songs, country licks, and dance grooves that people feel comfortable listening to––cookie-cutter sound that can be easily marketed to people who don’t realize there’s an alternative. Why should they?
     But the effect on the players, themselves, can be profound. Most of the old pros I know recoil in terror when confronted with yet another cheesy rip off of what was once a good tune or innovative idea. It’s neurological––you can only listen to the same thing so many times before convulsions threaten. When your once-beloved exploration of an unknown world becomes an endless trek through the same musical countryside, day after day, year after year, some love can be lost if you don’t actively seek out sounds that are truly new to your ears.
     The good news is that there is some out there––a lot, actually. It’s swimming in a sea of quality-controlled product, but with a little effort you can find music that is truly original. Cliché free, new. Originality, alone, doesn’t guarantee good art, so finding ways to express new ideas while remaining within the vocabulary of a musical tradition, without resorting to cliché, is an ongoing challenge, even in Jazz.
     If you want to know how it’s done check out Misconception by The Ted Hogarth Collective. Not only is it a great example of knowledgeable composition and sophisticated harmony, but it really swings. It was recorded in two days, which means the band had to set up and play, bypassing the endless overdubs, digital edits, and effects processing that turns music into product.
     The best thing about Misconception is that it is truly creative while remaining squarely within the Jazz tradition. While once the norm, this isn’t a given anymore. Jazz used to be about creativity (and there’s a whole lot of it still out there), but the economic realities of today’s market require many artists to release music geared toward having a ready-made audience rather than toward making a contribution. So creative musicians are forced to compete with Jazz Divas (“stylists” who sing endless, death-dealing renditions of hackneyed Jazz standards by dead composers as if they really meant something), and Smooth Jazz groups who think that a twenty-minute jam on G7 is improvisation.
     While the dumbing down of Jazz is creating a larger market for the music it forces artists like Hogarth into a fight to be heard, a fight for the future of the music. So help him out. Buy this album. Not only will you be striking a blow for independent creativity, but you’ll be getting a really good CD.

Ted Hogarth, saxophones
Brian Schwab, trumpet and flugelhorn
Andy Baker, trombone
Jo Ann Daugherty, piano
Bob Lovecchio, bass
Darren Scorza, drums

Listen to Misconception

Check out his web site

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Soul Eyes

The Craig Russo Latin Jazz Project

     In the liner notes to Soul Eyes, Craig Russo is only vaguely apologetic for being a non-latino who plays Latin Jazz. While this explains who his musicians are and where they play, he shouldn’t have to mention it, as far as I’m concerned, and doesn’t need to justify playing the music at all.
     Latin Jazz is a synthesis of musical elements from different, but related, cultures––generally those of Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Brazil, and the United States. Most commonly, Latin Jazz melds Latino rhythms and percussion instruments with North American chords, scales, and song forms. It can be viewed looking North or looking South. An American can take a Jazz tune and restructure it into a Cha-cha, a Cuban can take a Latin tune and reharmonize it with Jazz chords, Brazilians often play Jazz standards with a Samba feel, and Americans regularly dip into the vast Bossa Nova repertoire. All are legitimate ways to approach Latin Jazz and everyone should be made to feel welcome because we’ve all made a contribution. It’s as valid for Russo to introduce Latin rhythm into standard Jazz (if he does it knowledgeably, which he does) as it is for a Cuban Sax player to shed Coltrane licks and then use them in a Mambo.
     The strength of Soul Eyes comes from bringing Russo’s Latin percussion experience to the rhythm section then blending that with the improvising expertise of his horn players, most notably Chip McNeill, Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Illinois. This CD definitely represents the gringos looking South, and because of that it has a strong, native mastery of the Jazz idiom, but his horn players also seem energized by the Latin groove. There’s a rhythmic solidarity here, a sense of structure, that many Jazz drummers would do well to study since the concepts of solid time, manifest rhythm, and structured harmony have been lost to some (but not all) in the American Jazz scene. It’s all about the groove, and Russo hasn’t forgotten that.

Listen to
The Lamp is Low

Check out his web site