His recent performance video may be untitled, but from a drummer’s standpoint, it’s saying a lot.
Gerry Gibbs pays the bills playing various forms of jazz, and has swung his proverbial behind off with Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, and other luminaries. And as a leader, he’s released several albums that defy easy description. But for fun he records videos that also aren’t easily pigeonholed, with cohorts including Terry Bozzio. Recently Gibbs presented a nine-minute tour-de-force of soloing with brushes, sticks, fingers, and imagination.
The untitled piece, which is viewable on YouTube (search “Gerry Gibbs Drum Channel Video 1”) and on his Facebook page, is a through-composed electronic fun-ride that features some truly inventive drum soloing over his own computer-generated music programming, which at first sounds like a keyboard section from your favorite 1970s progressive-rock group. “I’m writing music for a new quintet—vibes, flute, piano, bass, and drums—with string quartet,” said Gibbs. “So [I continued] to write some stuff on the computer. I’ve worked with a lot of electronic artists, like Flying Lotus. So I composed the music and programmed it and just soloed to it. I didn’t want to do it and be reading. I wanted to play free on it, so I just memorized it. I’d listen to it in the car, and then I’d start soloing. And I’d think, Okay, I didn’t get lost. I was able to stay together with it, so I’ll use this one.”
The piece begins with some lightning-fast brush work over snares and toms, before moving into an ominous section where Gibbs’ dynamic control is as impressive as his hand speed. Gibbs employs the lightest touch with his fingers on the drumheads while rolling brushes or playing with the butt-end wire. There are grooving and uptempo swinging and different time signatures and pulses going by before your brain has time to settle, and it’s remarkable to think that he’s improvising his solo the whole time.
“It was hard because the tempos are constantly moving, so the click track is constantly moving,” said Gibbs of the technical challenges getting the piece down. “And I’ve done so much studio stuff that playing to a click track is like someone playing cowbell next to me. But the click doesn’t play all the way through. It plays in between the sections and sets them up, so I could tell where the tempo is. I ran my GoPro and two iPhones [with my wife, Kyeshie, helping], and then edited it all together.”
he piece moves into sections of calypso-like stick playing, some crooked funk, wacky Zappa-esque cowbell licks, and big band–style jabs that present the drummer’s musicality and excellent rudimental mastery. And it’s all done with a sense of humor, with random zoom-ins that don’t always focus on Gibbs’ hands, making the video alternately dramatic and amusing. “I want to make a series,” said Gibbs. “I almost added some other footage that had nothing to do with music, but it took away from the drumming. But I will in the future.”