Fans of Zappa and the Mothers’ seminal double-drum-powered live album Roxy & Elsewhere, rejoice!
Recorded over three nights in December 1973, Roxy: The Movie is the visual companion to the classic live Frank Zappa album Roxy and Elsewhere, bringing the record to life with herculean performances and the guitarist/composer’s mad sense of humor.
Featuring drummers Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphrey and percussionist Ruth Underwood performing incredibly challenging material like “Echidna’s Arf (of You)” and the opening theme of “Be-Bop Tango (of the Old Jazzmen’s Church),” the ninety-minute video, available on Blu-ray and DVD, presents Zappa’s genius and his band’s amazing technique and inspired interpretive skills in high relief. And there’s not a chart in sight.
Over and above the original audio release, Roxy: The Movie provides increased insight into Zappa’s brilliant players and their relative ease in performing music packed with circuitous melodic sequences, myriad metric modulation and polyrhythmic patterns, and dense arrangements that seemingly never end. It also includes material from the Roxy shows that didn’t appear on the LP: a bluesy, slow-swinging “Inca Roads,” a particularly funky “I’m the Slime,” and the instrumentals “RDNZL,” “T’Mershi Duween,” “Dog/Meat,” and “Big Swifty,” all of which turn this already percussion-heavy material into a drummer’s dream.
It’s fascinating to watch Humphrey and Thompson bring their legendary performances to life, confirming their unique contributions: Humphrey plays most of the demanding odd-meter and polyrhythmic parts along with cowbells and additional percussion. Thompson supplies the low-end funk and flow while also navigating through-composed sections. The pair play in unison for the bulk of the movie, but their approach is more about being complementary than syncing up exactly.
Ruth Underwood is also a revelation. Performing on marimba, vibraphone, timpani, snare drum, bongos, and other percussion, she is poetry in motion. Whether flying across her marimba or drawing sounds from concert bass drum, timpani, or snare, Underwood provides the rhythmic counterpart to Zappa’s poly-metric brain.
Zappa conducts and cues every moment of this dizzying performance—timeless music from an American master. (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
by Ken Micallef
Exploring the meaning of groove, both in terms of what’s played and how it’s played.
Each chapter in Jost Nickel’s Groove Book presents a new concept, such as linear playing or ghost notes, and with it a set of rules for constructing patterns. Plenty of examples accompany each concept, so a student should feel prepared to come up with his or her own phrases after finishing a chapter. The majority of the book deals with straight-8th- and 16th-note figures, but the ideas can be applied to triplet-based patterns or shuffles. Long text passages are avoided, allowing more room for exercises, but the explanations, when needed, are clear. The book includes an MP3 CD with more than 200 of the book’s patterns.
For the most part the chapters are independent of each other, so students can dive into whichever idea they want to explore. An orchestration section introduces two concepts—splitting and shifting—that are used to create variations. Two sections devoted to building grooves include rules for constructing phrases (e.g., “The right hand begins on the first beat”). Linear grooves, ghost notes, beat displacement, and go-go rhythms are covered, each with a separate set of guidelines for creating patterns while using the discussed concept.
Some chapters feel misplaced. Nickel’s philosophies on groove and timing are found at the end of the book, for instance, while a student would benefit from reading these ideas before practicing the preceding material. Likewise, bass drum technique is covered in the middle of the book, rather than up front where a student could internalize the motions before moving on. Fortunately, this doesn’t detract from how thoroughly each concept is covered. Drummers looking for a fresh perspective on the concept of groove will certainly find it here. ($21.99, Alfred)
by Willie Rose
by Romain Goulon
A course on extreme metal drumming, with the expected spotlight on double bass and blast beats.
In this instructional video, available on DVD and in downloadable formats, French drummer Romain Goulon (Necrophagist) gets into a concept he calls Leg Ankle Limit, that 150-to-170-bpm sweet spot where there’s a transition from your leg to your ankle being more engaged. Goulon focuses on his fluid heel/toe double-stroke work for bass drums, and he explains his wicked hand technique, focusing on his wrist. Of note is Goulon’s well-developed fusion skills and how he applies gospel-chops-style improvisation to his overall approach. Some attention is paid to odd times as well, so metal drummers looking to expand their horizons will have plenty to work on. The production value is no-frills but effective, and Goulon engages in enough on-camera speaking to give your mind an occasional break from the relentless barrage of killer patterns coming at you. (DVD: €20, digital download: $19.99, romain-goulon.com)
by Ilya Stemkovsky
by Larry Crockett
Yup, the author’s serious with the title—but not too. Either way, open minds will find that there’s a thing or two to be learned here.
Author and drummer Larry Crockett (Eric Bibb and J.J. Milteau, Martha Reeves) resides in Paris, so perhaps it’s those famously unstuffy French attitudes toward sex that inform this fun but practical collection of stories and insight about drumming and lovemaking. Take the chapter on “quickies,” where Crockett explains the connection between getting to the point without wasting time under the sheets and short sixteen-bar solo spots behind the kit, where you have to please an audience right away. Chapters with titles like “Keep the Fire Lit” (helping a gig/relationship stay fresh) and “Bigger Better”? (kit size/“stick” size) give you a sense of what’s inside, but the material is not pornographic. Instead, the anecdotes about not faking it sexually or musically, and about experimenting with different tempos on stage or in bed, are surprisingly useful in the real world. And though much of this is from a male-dominated point of view, female drummers can take something from here as well. (€19.99, larrycrockett.com)
by Ilya Stemkovsky
This sprawling yet conceptually focused recording makes for a fun ride through ethnic and jazz idioms.
Citing the title, keyboardist César Orozco explains that, in Latin music, tumbao is akin to what “swing” means in jazz, as in, “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that….” Rest assured, Orozco and company have got plenty of it in their inspired mix of Venezuelan and Cuban styles (both folkloric and modern) and jazz. Despite complex rhythms and sudden left turns, the music remains surprisingly lyrical, buoyed by multi-percussion with a danceable heart. The grooving rhythm section includes bassist Rodner Padilla, percussionist Francisco Vielma, and Euro Zambrano, an L.A. drummer originally from Venezuela who lends scintillating drive to overlapping Afro-Latin grooves and loping funk. Notable guests include the pioneering saxophonists Paquito D’Rivera and Yosvany Terry, and Pedrito Martinez, Luisito Quintero, Pablo Bencid, and Vladimir Quintero make outstanding percussion/drumming cameos as well. (ALFI)
by Jeff Potter
A veteran jazzer releases his first solo album, capturing a career’s worth of sonic impressions.
Though free jazz can be a tough nut to crack—free-jazz solo drumming even more so—what you get out of it is often what you bring to it. On Bucknell University professor Phil Haynes’ solo debut, Sanctuary, free-ish rhythms wash over the listener like a wave submerging a surfer. A sensitive drummer, Haynes treats silence almost philosophically; his assorted drum cracks, brush filigrees, and cymbal zings are like the sounds of forest creatures at dawn. Comprising twenty-seven short pieces organized as five movements, the music is performed on drums and cymbals, water bottles, discarded “plastic strips,” a broken toy, and hand percussion. Sanctuary is an atmospheric world of percussion shape-shifted into living things. (Corner Store Jazz)
by Ken Micallef
Other Drummer-Leds to Check Out
Tigue (percussion trio) Peaks /// Art “Turk” Burton and Congo Square Spirits: Then & Now /// Bastian Weinhold Cityscape /// Scott Hamilton and Jeff Hamilton Trio Live in Bern /// Chris Parker Trio Blue Print /// Randy Gloss …The Ayes Have It, Vol. 1: Self Portraits in Percussion