Taking the Reins
Gerry Gibbs & Thrasher People Weather or Not
Whatever the musical source, this drummer unfailingly makes it his own.
On his previous disc, Live in Studio, drummer/composer Gerry Gibbs transformed a selection of “elevator music” warhorses into an engaging, swinging affair. Here he has a richer lode to mine, reimagining the music of Weather Report in a mostly acoustic trio setting. No fawning homage, it’s wildly inventive, stylistically sprawling, and often downright gonzo. Driven by Gibbs, who’s got the kinetic energy of a caffeinated hummingbird, the keyword is exuberance. Expect numerous lightning tempos. Gibbs’ tight, rollercoaster arrangements are supported dazzlingly by bassist Hans Glawischnig and pianist Alex Collins, the latter adding touches of Rhodes and organ.
This two-disc package (with its inexplicable but tres cool psychedelic-’60s cover) also includes a set of Gibbs’ own compositions, covering expansive ground from aggressive swing to funk, gospel, Latin, and the wacky wah-wah cop-show vibe of “Kojak.” Like Gibbs’ spirited, grooving drumming, this outing brims with joie de vivre. (Whaling City Sound) Jeff Potter
Peter Erskine and the Dr. Um Band Second Opinion
Peter Erskine New Trio In Praise of Shadows
Two new releases from the esteemed Mr. Erskine where he (sort of) plugs in.
The first Dr. Um disc got Peter Erskine grooving again, and after a Grammy nomination, why not return with Second Opinion, another outing of funky, expertly played material where the drumming shines? “Hipnotherapy” bobs along slow and steady, as Erskine paces things with deliberate snare backbeats that say I’m not in a rush. There are softer ballads (“Street of Dreams”) and swingers (“Did It Have to Be You?”), but for the most part this is Erskine returning to his electric roots—with years of maturity and playing experience adding a little extra sauce to the pot.
In Praise of Shadows is a second disc from Erskine’s enchanting New Trio (think intimate jazz piano trio briefly dabbling in lighter fusion territory with some complex arrangements), and features keyboardist Vardan Ovsepian and the drummer’s son Damian, who has developed into an extremely accomplished electric bassist. “What If” is all intricate lines and rhythms, and hearing Erskine weave in and out of the moving chords with clever solo breaks is beholding a master at work. Also check out “Silhouette Shadows” for an end-vamp solo with some call-and-response melodic tom rolls. No, these releases aren’t really a return to the Weather Report days, but a funky Erskine in whatever form is always welcome. (Fuzzy Music) Ilya Stemkovsky
Steve Smith The Fabric of Rhythm
Solo drum pieces that work together with canvas art but that also do just fine by themselves.
Created as a supplemental audio component to Steve Smith’s canvas art pieces made using lighted sticks, The Fabric of Rhythm comes as a collection of solo drum tracks featuring improvisations and composed material. “Banyan” mixes South Indian Konnakol vocalizing with drumset patterns based on groups of five, while “Condor” features Smith stretching a 12/8 beat with marching band elements and modulations. Then dig on “Kinetic Dance,” a piece in 4/4 that contains intricate groupings of sevens and nines and some smooth singles, and the wicked “Interdependence,” where Smith plays a jazz beat with his left hand and solos melodically with his right. The full package comes with a swanky, limited-edition hardcover book featuring examples of the art itself, including Smith’s own thoughts on each canvas and audio piece, photos of the drummer across the years, an essay chronicling his music career, and a vinyl record. And though it’s enjoyable to hear these tracks while also looking at the visual piece they’re linked to and reading Smith’s breakdown, as a stand-alone disc of drum music The Fabric of Rhythm has gotten our attention already. (vitalinformation.com) Ilya Stemkovsky
Def Leppard And There Will Be a Next Time…Live From Detroit
RICK ALLEN brings rock power on a live set of arena anthems.
Def Leppard has now been around for forty (!) years, but there aren’t many official live video releases on the market. Live From Detroit presents a show from the band’s 2016 tour across one DVD and two CDs, and aside from a few requisite new tracks, the DVD set list is a fan-friendly selection of greatest hit after greatest hit. Rick Allen sticks to album versions of the classics, with the occasional improvised fill thrown in, and his triggered kit is lean and mean but has multiple hi-hats and pedals for him to choose from. The drummer, who lost his left arm in a 1984 car accident, alternates between playing a snare sound with a left-foot pedal and a normal snare with his right hand, so he’s really working up there. Check out the insistent dotted thump of “Rocket” and the simple, almost funky groove of “Man Enough” for a taste of Allen’s tightness. Then dig the speedy bass drum licks on “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” and the need for more cowbell on a rocking “Photograph.” ($26.98, Eagle Vision) Ilya Stemkovsky
Heads of State Four in One
Four legendary statesmen show how it’s done.
It’s a straight-ahead concept: four jazz veterans with serious cred join forces to swing hard. Can’t lose. Especially when the authoritative gents are Gary Bartz (alto, soprano sax), Larry Willis (piano), David Williams (bass), and the great groove-popping, jaw-dropping, non-stopping AL FOSTER on drums. On its second disc, the supergroup handles diverse covers superbly, and each member contributes an original composition, including a rarity: Foster’s own “Aloysius,” a catchy groover that shifts between jazz-samba and swing. Foster both leads the way and interacts brilliantly, from the percolating bop of Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche” to the airy interplay of Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous.” Whether expertly drawing from tradition or exploring the edge—as he did during his thirteen-year stint with Miles Davis—Foster has always been about a joyous right-in-it feel; observe his ever-present performance smile. What a pleasure hearing Foster with these peers in musical royalty. Hail to the chiefs! (Smoke Sessions) Jeff Potter
Hard Proof Stinger
This Austin band deals in lots of tasty beat making.
Anyone tantalized by the thought of Afrobeat in 7/4 will love the album-opening title track of Stinger, and those holding a soft spot for jazz flute will be hooked by “Men of Trouble.” “Incendiary” builds into an epic Santana-esque sendoff, with drummer and MD writer STEPHEN BIDWELL finding spaces for his accents alongside percussionists TOMMY SPAMPINATO and TONY CRUZ. “Trickle Down” flirts with Afro-dub, a bare and beautiful Bidwell funk track led by the drummer’s crackling, reverb-enhanced snare. Joe Woullard’s bari sax helps Bidwell drive the 12/8 “War Gin,” and on “Lots” the drummer toys with dancehall accents, mixing it up on the dynamic swells, taking advantage to go big and slightly rogue. Bidwell gives a final nod to Fela sticksman Tony Allen on “Soul Thing,” crafting a slick groove that dances around, but not on, the expected backbeats. (Modern Outsider) Robin Tolleson