Catching Up With…

Dave King

Hot on the heels of two 2014 albums by the Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring and Inevitable Western, the drummer returns with something completely different.

by Michael Parillo

Have you ever brought a pair of antlers to use as sticks on a Little Caesars commercial session? Have you blown an enormous solo over ZZ Top’s “Legs” during your drum clinic? Possibly not. But if you have room in your mind to consider these notions, and many more like ’em, you should check out Dave King’s new online video series, Rational Funk, which giddily turns the idea of the instructional DVD on its ear.

“Of course it’s not a new concept to make a parody of instructional videos, in any genre of the arts,” King says. “I used to watch the oil-painting shows on PBS on Sunday mornings. I loved it. But I don’t mean Rational Funk to be a stupid parody. The drumming in it is very real. I am a drum nerd. I’m a guy who grew up dealing with all the information, studying privately, but also being like, ‘Whoa, a Steve Gadd instructional video!’”

Although King plunges headlong into comic absurdity in the brief clips, which he creates with filmmaker/engineer Joe Johnson and has been releasing on YouTube around once a week, he also sneaks across deep bits of musical insight (see “Episode 11: The Mystery of Improvisation”), along with some killer drumming. It’s King’s knack for balancing disparate elements, in Rational Funk as well as in his aesthetic with the Bad Plus and his other projects—highbrow and lowbrow, serious and playful—that makes the videos unique. Dave will be cursing a blue streak and blasting off fireworks of goofiness (profanity is bleeped, but it’s frequent, so beware of sharing the clips with younger viewers, who’d just be befuddled anyway), but then he’ll suddenly invoke Hemingway or Frank Stella or Duchamp.

“Years ago I started thinking about ways that I could do this,” King explains, “but I was sheepish about coming out with something silly, because I wanted to be taken seriously as a musician—because I take it very seriously. I want to be in the world as someone that is righteously pro-drums, pro-expression. So I felt the timing was okay at this point to explore some of these other avenues of my thing, in a way that’s lighthearted and ultimately couched in some actual real-life stuff. I feel like there is room to explore the nature of the performer as a ridiculous person. And I’m hanging myself out as much as I’m hanging anybody out.

Rational Funk is an assassination of the format, but it’s also me—I mean, I am a dedicated technical fanatic of the drums. I love rock music, love really complicated fusion from all eras. And it isn’t just going after big, muscle-car, Black Hawk–helicopter fusion guys. It’s going after everything, from esoteric free jazz to punk rock, rap-rock. I’m going after jazz…I play jazz, you know? I just want to make people smile at the whole thing.”