Hey, everybody. Modern Drummer asked me to tell you about what I’ve been up too lately, so—press roll—here goes:
I’ve had a couple of experiences recently that you might find interesting. I’ve been co-leading a band called Third World Love with trumpeter Avishai Cohen, bassist Omer Avital, and pianist Yonatan Avishai. We’ve have had some really fun tours this year, and we’ve gotten to see and play in some great places, such as San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Boston, Spain, Turkey, and of course New York City. We also got a chance to record our new record in New York with legendary engineer Joe Ferla. It’s always a real treat to work with Joe. He’s engineered countless records since the ’70s and gets an incredible drum sound in about five minutes. Joe asks you to play in the room, listens to how you play for just a few minutes, makes maybe one or two minor adjustments, and—abracadabra—the sound you hear back is like looking in the mirror. Amazing drum sound–with no EQ and no compression!
This past April 1 we got the chance to perform with The Revolutionary Symphonic Orchestra in Israel. I got a chance to write for the orchestra as well. Writing for such a large ensemble made me think about Max Roach and his unique way of writing for large ensembles. I got to hang and study with Max when I was in high school, and I remember that every time I would see him he would ask me if I was playing piano. It was important for him to encourage drummers to become more complete musicians.
I recently had the fortune to play at the legendary Village Vanguard for a week with Anat Cohen’s Quartet, with Ed Simon on piano and Omer Avital. I grew up in New York City and have been going to The Vanguard since I was a kid. Some of the greatest musical experiences I’ve ever had were there, hearing heroes like Arthur Taylor, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, and Tony Williams. So it was an incredible feeling making music with my friends in that special room. There are no monitors at the Vanguard, and it’s quite dry–you really have to play the room and get a natural balance on the bandstand. What you hear is what you get. There were moments during the week when I was playing and the sound of the snare and cymbal reminded me (only because of the sound of the room!) of my heroes making music on that small stage. The vibe at The Village Vanguard really makes you concentrate and play music on a level that is beyond what you can normally do.
What else? I was on Oprah, and it was really great to talk to her and—oh wait—that didn’t happen. But what did happen was I went to Senegal for three weeks, and that was amazing. I traveled around the country and got a chance to hear and hang with some incredible musicians.
The most popular drumming style and culture that is unique to Senegal is Sabar. It mostly involves playing a hand drum with both a stick and by hand, and it’s a very powerful and subtle method. The Sabar that I heard was so killing, the drummers and dancers (which includes just about everybody) are so virtuosic, relaxed, grooving, and communicative that it’s mind-blowing.
A special shout-out to Sankoum and Moussa Sissoko–incredible drummers, kora players, singers, dancers, and generous friends. Sankoum and Moussa are griot and live and breathe their music. They are the music. At their house the music goes on from morning to night, and it’s always fun and played with plenty of heart.
I can’t recommend this enough to everybody: If you like the music of a place, wherever it is (Africa, Brazil, Cuba, NY, New Orleans–wherever), don’t be afraid or lazy. Save up some money and GO THERE! You won’t regret it for a minute. It’ll open your mind, ears, and soul.