Phil Stewart Melodious Drum
A drummer and percussionist shines on his professional recording debut.
Whereas much modern jazz opts to explore dissonant or chaotic sonic spaces, Phil Stewart’s first album, Melodious Drum, is a swinging expression of melancholy-tinged joy. Stewart’s drumming anchors these ten tunes with inventive takes on traditional jazz patterns, paying homage to players like Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones without scanning as stale or appropriative. Stewart’s ride and snare interplay is foundational rather than flashy, and the band crafts memorable, hook-laden tunes perfectly suited for dancing. The great joy of Melodious Drum is that Stewart and his collaborators possess whatever indefinable qualities of musicianship cause jazz to crawl into your consciousness and demand that you listen over and over. (Cellar Live) Available from Amazon. Keaton Lamle
Henry Conerway With Pride for Dignity
The drummer gives his trio the platform to develop a group sound, interpreting their music with freshness and appeal.
Groove and pocket are something drummers discuss often. It’s something where you know it when you hear it. One drummer who’s really got it is Henry Conerway, who displays a deep pocket and masterful groove on his debut album. Within a traditional piano-trio format, Conerway, pianist Kenny Banks, and bassist Kevin Smith explore a mix of classic jazz standards and originals. With a group sound like a 21st-century update of Ramsey Lewis or the Three Sounds, pocket is paramount, with rolling, hip bass lines and tasteful piano on top. Check out the opener, “Slippery,” for a sampling of all of these qualities, or the spry brush work on “Cottontail.” Conerway’s playing throughout is supportive and snappy, swinging and adding just the right amount of kick. This approach continues into the solo drumming of “Carvin’s Agreement,” named for Conerway’s teacher, the legendary Michael Carvin. (thehc3.com) Available from Amazon. Martin Patmos
Jeff Berlin Random Misfires
The veteran Boston-area drummer turns personal challenges into art.
After suffering a series of strokes in 2015, the Vermont-based Bow Thayer drummer was forced to modify his professional and personal habits. In some instances, the bite-sized drum-driven compositions on Random Misfires evolved directly from therapeutic exercises Berlin performed to regain his motor skills, which in turn helped him develop various innovative sticking patterns applied in these pieces. With the assistance of musical friends, woodwind player Dana Colley (Morphine) and guitarist Pete Weiss, a rehabilitated Berlin stokes twenty-one genre-defying, visually evocative drumscapes, such as the lovably lumbering “Baby Elephants,” bewildering “Pagan Mantis” in 7/8, and rhythmically mangled “Winged Man,” highlighting the endearing vulnerability of their creator. “Random misfires”? Here’s proof that a record’s title doesn’t always tell the whole story. (jeffberlin.bandcamp.com) Available from Amazon. Will Romano
Rudy Royston Flatbed Buggy
A Royston solo effort surprises again.
As a sideman to numerous jazz stars, Rudy Royston has shown an eager open- mindedness for genre mixing. And this, his third solo disc, is a striking affirmation. In a sharp left turn from the drummer’s previous in-your-face trio disc, Rise of Orion, his latest is a melodic outing bathed in a warm, earthy timbre generated by the uncommon format of drums, cello, accordion, bass, bass clarinet, and occasional sax. The compositions are inspired by Royston’s memories of youth in rural Texas, expressed in a jazz/chamber framework shaded by early American folk. There are also R&B, funk, and rock influences, largely suggested by his grooving yet open and never heavy-handed guidance. And on the most jazz-defined track, the oddball jigsaw bopper “Bobblehead,” Royston lets loose with urgent swinging topped by a spectacular solo. In contrast, his solo spotlight on “The Roadside Flowers” serves as an eloquent compositional transition. Intimate and yearningly restless. (Greenleaf Music) Available from Amazon. Jeff Potter
The Ultimate Left-Hand System for Drummers
by Larry Crockett
This book offers a sobering look at your weak hand, and a plan to get results.
Larry Crockett’s new book is a whopping 271 pages of exercises for just your left hand, and it sheds light on the challenges most of us face when confronting the reality of the disparity between our limbs. There’s only one line of music here, with only the suggestion to play quarter notes with your bass drum in each measure, and there don’t seem to be any chapters distinguishing theme or concept. So what you’re left with is material that will strengthen your left hand with everything from simple, rudimentary ideas to involved four- and eight-bar solos that could take a while to execute properly. Like Jim Chapin’s classic Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, which presented a comprehensive technical and musical left-hand snare schooling underneath a basic jazz ride pattern, The Ultimate Left-Hand System is something to check in with piecemeal, and it is open-ended enough to where you can move the information to your right leg or whatever else needs attention. (ultimatelefthand.com, lulu.com) Ilya Stemkovsky
40 Triplets and 10 Ways to Play Them and Independence with Triplets
by Rick Lawton
Cracking the code of triplets with an eye on detailed phrasing options.
Exactly how deep does one need to get into triplets? If you’re a swinger wondering what legends like Elvin Jones and Tony Williams were doing, and how, the answer is “very deep.” Author Rick Lawton takes a stab at different permutations in the world of triplets, focusing on the common and alternate stickings and accents that make up the foundation of jazz and other genres. The first volume highlights “the Main 40” triplets and contains examples focusing on snare drum and bass drum, and then mixes in other elements including shuffles and toms. You could realistically spend weeks or months on just one of the pages here, incorporating these ideas into your grooves or solos, and still have plenty to learn and work on as you advance. The follow-up volume, Independence with Triplets, returns to those 40, supplementing the initial patterns with crash cymbals, jazz ride, hi hat, and notated staff examples like “Add Unaccented Snare Drum”; things get rather complicated rather quickly. This is useful stuff, cleanly presented in bite-sized nuggets, and sure to bring your musicality to the next level. (sticks-and-skins.com) Ilya Stemkovsky
Drumming in All Directions
by David Dieni
An extensive take on developing four-limb coordination from the ground up.
The San Francisco–based drummer and educator David Dieni’s first published effort, Drumming in All Directions, Vol. 1, seeks to provide a fresh perspective on independence and coordination. In the book’s introduction, Dieni explains the concept of what he calls “motion-balance” to develop coordination and freedom. Rather than using a “hands-first, feet-second” approach to internalizing coordination, Dieni attempts to tackle four-limb interdependence development head-on by incorporating both the hands and feet right from the start.
To accomplish this, Drumming in All Directions develops fifty different alternating limb combinations, as demonstrated in two- limb, three-limb, and four-limb matrices. For instance, a few possible combinations could be from the right hand to the left hand (as found in the book’s “2-Limb Matrix” section), or from the left hand to a combination of the right hand and both feet (as found in the “4-Limb Matrix”). These combinations are to be played over Dieni’s “Control Workouts,” which comprise the bulk of the book. These are two-bar exercises written on one line, with two-voice alternating notation split between the top and bottom spaces. Students are directed to read through the workouts while applying one of Dieni’s matrix patterns to the exercises.
There are also ostinatos for the three- and two-limb combinations. If you’re practicing a Control Workout with a combination of the right hand, left foot, and right foot from the three-limb matrix, you can apply one of the seven ostinatos with your left hand while reading through the exercise, for instance. “Groove Melodies” are included to break up the workouts and provide examples of creative applications for the material, and there’s a guide to how the patterns should be voiced on the kit.
While Dieni’s system can seem overwhelming or confusing at first, his concept should be diligently understood before diving into the rest of the book. Once you’re comfortable with his methodology, the book offers no shortage of ways to practice it, with over seventy pages’ worth of Control Workouts and Groove Melodies. If you’re willing to dig in and really internalize Dieni’s concepts, you should be set with independence material for a very long time. (DID Productions, $19.99) Available from Amazon. Willie Rose