The iconic drummer Jojo Mayer and his band Nerve are an anomaly within a sea of artists in the electronic dance music scene. However, their collective influences run much deeper than the genre might suggest. With a pedigree in jazz and funk, Mayer and his band are capable of pushing the limits of EDM via nearly telepathic and endlessly creative improvisations. Their extensive discography explores everything from hyper-speed drum ’n’ bass to growly dubstep to acoustic jazz. This group can compel the most sophisticated listening audience while also satisfying a dance club crowd.
Mayer is often described as “modern,” “cutting-edge,” “futuristic,” and “visionary.” He’s always ahead of musical and drumming trends, while his technique is deeply seated in the teachings of the masters, including Billy Gladstone, Sanford Moeller, Jim Chapin, and Joe Morello. In this two-part article, we’re going to take a look at some highlights from Jojo’s extensive body of work with Nerve.
“Far,” Prohibited Beats (2009)
Nerve’s first album, Prohibited Beats, is where we are introduced to the reverse engineering concept of performing live the sped-up samples of classic drum breaks that producers in the jungle and drum ’n’ bass genres use. Jojo’s superhuman technique is on full display as he expands the boundaries of the instrument in order to meet the music’s high demands.
On the intro to this song, Jojo uses space as a creative tool to emulate DJ-style dropouts. The absence of the bass drum places the kit sound in the upper range of the sonic spectrum, almost as if there’s a high-pass filter placed on the drum mix. (0:44)
As the song develops, Jojo makes great use of an altered Swiss triplet sticking to connect phrases together. (1:07)
Here is a sneaky triplet fill that occurs at the end of a phrase. (2:09)
“7even,” Prohibited Beats
This track is based on a swing groove in 7/4. A jazz-influenced ride pattern mixes with a funky backbeat to create a buoyant, floating feel. There’s a perfectly placed hi-hat splash just before the last snare buzz in each measure. (0:36)
“Jabon,” Prohibited Beats
This is a great example of Jojo’s up-tempo drum ’n’ bass playing. The left hand plays doubles on a tightly tuned left-side snare. He quickly grabs the cymbal just before the end of the phrase to mimic a digital mute effect. (0:32)
“Catachresis,” ep1 (2010)
In this song, Jojo plays a fast sticking-based groove. He uses a low-pitched snare on his left side for the primary backbeat, and the right hand catches the main snare on the & of beat 4 of the first measure. (0:02)
The groove on this track showcases Mayer’s technical command of fast tempos. He snaps quick pull-out accents and delivers some four-note bursts with his left hand on the snare, occasionally dropping drags to add sustain to the notes. (1:43)
This offbeat cymbal bell rhythm is one of Jojo’s signature patterns. (5:32)
“Loot,” ep2 (2010)
Another signature component of Mayer’s playing is his ability to nimbly switch between subdivisions. In this excerpt, the hi-hat slows down and speeds up metrically over a wide-open kick and snare part. (0:26)
“Mindwash,” ep3 (2010)
Jojo lays down a solid half-time shuffle on this song. The kick drum figures mirror the sputtering rhythms of the bass line. (1:09)
We will continue our style and analysis of Jojo Mayer’s playing on more recent recordings with his band Nerve in a future issue.
by Terry Branam