At 37, L.A.-based Alex Acuna could honestly call himself—if he weren’t so self effacing—one of the world’s most versatile drummer/percussionists. Though most people know his mid-Seventies work with the globe-hopping Weather Report, many are unaware of the depth of his Latin chops (schooled in Peru and Puerto Rico), his pit and show work (in Las Vegas and on the hotel strip in San Juan), his studio rep (now, in Los Angeles. He recently recorded with Chick Corea and Paco De- Lucia), and even his rock-pop work (currently, with Lee Ritenour and Friendship). And fewer still have heard a new but sensational band Acuna helps fuel—Koinonia, a fixture in L.A. clubs for the last few years, and a group soon to record (also featuring bassist Abraham Laboriel, keyboardists Michael Omartian and Harlan Rogers, reedmen Justo Almario and John Phillips, guitarists Hadley Hockensmith and Dean Parks, and drummer Bill Maxwell). For Acuna, as an expression of both his recent conversion to Christianity and a relaxed sense of musical satisfaction, it may be the high point of his career. Point is, almost no one realizes that little Alejandro Neciosup Acuna has been playing the drums for over 20 years—and in the following interview, MD readers should begin to see that he’s one singular musician.
MR: Where are you from originally, Alex?
AA: I grew up to the north of Lima, the capital of Peru, in a little town called Pativilca, by the Pacific Ocean. My mother is half Spanish, and I use her last name: Acuna. And my father is Greek, and his last name is Neciosup—that’s the name you see on Black Market. I’m the eighth of nine children—six brothers and three sisters, and they all play music. My father is a music teacher, and he plays drums, piano, trumpet, saxophone, everything.
MR: People think of Peruvian music as Incan, but that can’t be entirely correct, can it?
AA: It seems like people don’t understand that though Peruvians are descended from Indians, Peru is mostly a Spanish- speaking country. I didn’t really have any Incan background. Although sometimes my mother would take me to her birthplace in the mountains, to carnivals the Indians celebrated. It was a little town that disappeared in the earthquake in 1968—Yungay.
MR: The whole city? The people? Everything?
AA: Yeah, the mountain came over and covered the valley. Anyway, she used to dance, and they played the Incan music, which is a nice, beautiful groove. It’s like the Brazilian maracatu, like “maracatu, maracatu, maracatu” . . . a 4/4 with that accent. And then, in another town, my birthplace, Chancay, they had a Black Peruvian music, like Cuban music, and with clave and all that. They played boxes, congas, bongos, and cowbells and sounded very African. My ear caught all these grooves as I was growing up. But mostly, my brothers had a band, and they played Latin music, so I learned boleros, charangas, dansons, merengues, guaranchas, mambos, and merecumbe from Columbia, which is what they call cumbia now. My brothers worked for dancing, and the name of the band was “Los Hermanos Neciosup y La Tropical Boys”—The Neciosup Brothers and the Tropical Boys.
MR: How did you get into jazz?
AA: I started listening to Duke Ellington when I was twelve years old. None of my family liked jazz, but I found some LPs on the street, like, a record of Nat Cole playing with Lester Young. It sounded different, so I bought it.
MR: And when did you start playing?
AA: My father started me out on trumpet, and I didn’t like the things it did to my lips. But my first instrument was always drums. I was always banging on all the traps, bongos, congas, and maracas that my brothers had, when they finished rehearsing. So, I was really self taught.
MR: When did you actually start your career?
AA: When I was 16, my brothers called me to come to Lima. They were becoming very big studio musicians there— actually, some of them still are today, twenty years later. They play in jazz clubs, too. Anyway, I got to town and started gigging around. I had, and still have, a very peculiar way of playing. On traps, I cover the bass and the conga pattern. So it got me a lot of work then. Plus, I knew how to read, from taking trumpet and piano from my father. And in those days, only two other drummers in Lima knew how to read, so I was working 18-hour days: TV, radio, clubs, shows, when I was only 16. I bought a car when I was 17, but I didn’t know how to drive, so I got a chauffeur. And then, when I was 19, Perez Prado came to Peru and hired me to come to the U.S. I was so young, my mother wouldn’t sign the papers: my brothers had to. With Perez, I went to Vegas. We even made an album, for United Artists: Luces, Accion, Prado! It was Beatles tunes, movie tunes . . .
MR: It’s incredible to think I could actually hear Alex Acuna on a record eighteen years ago.
AA: If you could find it now.
MR: Did you stay in the U.S. then?
AA: At the end of 1964, Perez was going to work in Mexico, and since the union there didn’t allow foreigners to join, he left me in L.A. and I started playing in bowling alleys. Finally, in ’65, I went back to Peru, and then in 1966, I went to Puerto Rico, where I stayed until 1974.
MR: Why Puerto Rico?
AA: I went over with a band from Peru— some Brazilians, Argentinians and Peruvians. We played a lounge in a hotel for three years, and then when the band broke up, I stayed there.
MR: This was an incredible life for a kid in his early twenties. How were you feeling during this period? Were you learning a lot?
AA: Yeah, all the time. And, in Puerto Rico, I was one of the few trap drummers who liked jazz. I would buy Buddy Rich and Joe Morello records, and copy their techniques. I had the sense that I could tell how they did what they did, and so I just practiced. Then I heard Elvin Jones, and I liked his heart, so he was my favorite. And I also liked Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette. But Elvin, he used the African rhythms—one that I was very familiar with. He played the jazz with the right hand, but his left hand and right leg were playing African: triples, and 6/8’s.
Then I bought Jim Chapin books, and even enrolled in a conservatory for two years, learning about mallets and tympani, just to know the right technique, which I’d never learned before. I had all this time on my hands, just working at night, so I decided to use it.
MR: So what happened after that lounge band broke up?
AA: I did sessions and TV shows, all kinds of jobs, just like in Peru. I backed singers like Iris Chacon, who has a TV show there, and then on the public TV station, I played jazz every week. There were a lot of timbale and conga players, but not that many trap drummers, so, again, I worked a lot. I even did show drumming—the Royal De Paris, in one of the hotels, for a year. Everything I was offered, I took, even if I hadn’t done it before. I wanted to learn. I had big ears.
MR: Were you learning anything from specific players during this period; guys you worked with?
AA: Sure, from everybody. Especially from the trap drummers in the hotel shows. Acts like, say, Paul Anka, used to bring their drummers from Miami or Las Vegas, and so I’d go to rehearsals and talk to them. I met Sol Gubin that way. I didn’t ask him anything specific—I just learned, from watching how relaxed he was. He didn’t even look at his hands or feet. He just smoked a cigarette and played.
Then, there was Walfredo De Los Reyes, a great drummer from Cuba, who’s in Vegas now. He’d studied in New York with Henry Adler. So he used to tell me, “Alex, this is what Joe Morello does with his fingers,” and I paid attention. He got me some books on stick control, too.
MR: Did anybody tell you about, maybe, staying in clave?
AA: Absolutely. Even though I played Latin music in Peru, and with Perez Prado, when I went to Puerto Rico, I still sounded like a Peruvian Latin player. In Peru, we just listened to records and copied. We didn’t know why things broke the way they did, for example. So, in Puerto Rico, I found another excellent drummer named Monchito Munoz, who played with Tito Rodriguez back in the Forties. He showed me clave, like, “When a tune starts a certain way, you automatically have to know which clave to use.” For example, take “The Peanut Vendor.” I used to start on three, and he said, “Start on two, which goes with the melody. The other way, it’s like you and the melody are having a fight!” And I said, “Wow! I’ve been playing wrong all my life!” So, I started to find out. I don’t want to say anything bad about them, but there are a lot of players here in L.A. now who don’t play in clave, or play sambas correctly. I was lucky to meet Monchito.
MR: And during this whole period, were you also playing percussion?
AA: Everything. I never separated the two. Since I was a little kid, I’d always been told that even a guy on bongos played the drums. That one drum is a drum.
MR: Did you hang out with any great percussionists in Puerto Rico?
AA: Sure. On the streets, conga players got together every day, especially near the beach. And I was staying in a hotel near the ocean. So I listened, or I went down and played. The way you have to hit the congas there—the first time I played, I had blisters five minutes later, I was hitting so hard. But it’s the right way to play. In Peru, I just played what I heard on record, soft stuff, on poorly made congas. In Puerto Rico, the congas had thick skins. You had to hit to be heard, and keep hitting. That’s how I learned to play the guaguanco, and bembe. And then on bongos, I learned to get more strength into my fingers. I used to play just with my two index fingers, but Monchito told me to use my last two fingers on my left hand, and the three middle on my right. And then, to use some conga slaps—the whole hand.
MR: You mentioned earlier that a lot of people don’t know clave here. Is it also true that a lot of non-Latins can’t really play Latin percussion correctly?
AA: Yes. Too many don’t know the difference between the guaguanco of Puerto Rico, and the more sophisticated guaguanco of Cuba.
MR: You said you left Puerto Rico in 1974. Then what?
AA: There was a Cuban bass player I knew in Puerto Rico who could sightread anything— Orlando Hernandez, or “Papito.” I admired him, and we got to be good enough friends so that when he eventually started working in Las Vegas, he made it possible for me to come. I wanted to take the next step up from Puerto Rico. I never like to be the best, but I’m trying to be, so I can grow. In Las Vegas, I started playing in the house band at the Hilton. I might play percussion for The Temptations, who had their own drummer, or traps for Ann-Margaret, who didn’t bring a drummer, and for Olivia Newton-John, who was opening for Charlie Rich. I didn’t even have to wait the standard six months to work, because of Papito’s recommendations.
MR: A lot of drummers turn up their noses at show work. But I’ll bet it taught you a lot.
AA: Absolutely. It really gave me the ability to drive a big band. I had to take them wherever I went, and I liked that. It was the first time I’d done that. I still had to play for the stage dancers, and yet be free to do splashes and breaks when they did choreography. It was a different kind of freedom than playing jazz; more of an organized freedom. And then, I tried to sound like the other show drummers—precise, yet powerful.
MR: How did you join Weather Report?
AA: Well, I played in Las Vegas through 1975. One day, Don Alias, who was in town playing percussion for Lou Rawls, found me; he’d seen me with The Temptations. I’d played traps on just the first tune, the big opening number. And then, I switched to congas, and this knocked him out. It turned out a lot of Puerto Rican players that he knew in New York knew me, too. So, Don asked if I’d like to play some music, and I said, “Yeah.” Don told me [bassist] Miroslav Vitous was forming a band, and he wanted me to be in it, so he and I could switch traps and congas. So Miroslav came to town and we played in my house. Anyway, nothing happened with that group, but as a result, Don got me a brief gig in San Francisco with Dave Liebman, and I knocked Dave out. Dave recommended me to Joe Zawinul shortly after that. So I was home, with my family—no show job, no any job—and one afternoon, Joe called. Since Puerto Rico, I had been listening to Weather Report. I couldn’t believe it.
MR: Didn’t you audition?
AA: Oh, sure (laughs). That’s a story right there. The band was leaving within a week for a tour in Europe, off Tale Spinnin’. The manager called with all the terms, and I immediately accepted. But I didn’t fly to L.A. right away. Instead, Zawinul told me to stay in Las Vegas. He was going to fly in to see me, because he said he could tell by looking at me how I played. So, the next day, I went to Caesars Palace to meet him, and my car broke down. So I borrowed a friend’s old, beat up station wagon, and I went in that. And when I met Zawinul, he just looked at me. He said, “What’s your name?” I said, “Alejandro Neciosup.” He said, “I like that name. Yeah, you can play.” And then, when I took him to my car, he just looked at it and said, “Oh, you’re poor.” (laughter) Anyway, I didn’t even know if I was gonna play drums or percussion. So then he asked me if I had any percussion instruments, and I had to say no. He said the band would rent them all: congas, bongos, timbales, tambora, guiro, maracas, cowbell, gongs, and cymbals. And when I went to L.A. the next day, I walked in to this rehearsal hall, and the band was playing, and there were six cases of stuff all waiting for me. Nobody said a word, so I just sat down and joined in. Chester Thompson was the drummer, and Al Johnson was on bass. An hour went by, and nobody still said anything. Finally, Wayne Shorter introduced himself, and said, “If I were ever a percussionist, I’d play like you.” And I was in the band.
MR: So, then you toured.
AA: Yeah, New York and then Europe. Chester was incredible. So precise; his decisions of changing, to fit the music, were solid. He never made a mistake. And Al—his style was new to me too: his pedals, sounds, harmonics. This was all a level of music I had never heard before. The band just told me to be myself and fit in. And since the music was so new, I felt a little inhibited, and I started thinking, and that tied me all up. And finally, at the moment of the most confusion, when I didn’t know what to do, and they still didn’t tell me—I understood They never said a word. They got it from Miles, which is where Wayne and Joe came from of course. And when I left the band, I had that strong, quiet feeling, too.
MR: When did you start to really find your identity in Weather Report?
AA: Well, a lot of the tunes on Black Market, I’d have to say, were based on my playing with the group. For example, I used to take a hotel room next to Joe’s, and play my Latin tapes. I had taped them from my stereo at home, using a cord mic’, and you could hear my kids talking in the background. So that’s what the babbling on Black Market was based on. Everything Joe listens to, he makes a picture of it.
And then, I started to play drums in the band. Every now and then, I’d practice, alone. One day, Joe came in and heard me. So we played together, more and more. And finally, rehearsing for Black Market, I played traps. Joe ordered me a hi-hat, snare, a bass drum, my congas on the side, my gong on the left, and so Chester and I were the two drummers. I used to ask Chester if I was in his way, because our styles are real different. I’m all over the set and he’s solid, grooving. He said no. And then, when Al Johnson left, they were flying in bass players from all over the country to audition while we were finishing recording.
MR: Enter Jaco Pastorius.
AA: Exactly. I knew him from tapes Don Alias had, when they both played with Lou Rawls in Miami. I thought, “Wow, I’ve never heard a bass player like this.” So I told Joe about him, and he called Jaco, and Jaco flew in, pony tail, no shirt, and with his Epic album, which he’d just finished.
MR: And then there was a new drummer?
AA: Well, just for the album, Wayne asked me who I wanted to play with, and I said Narada Michael Walden. We’d worked together on Al Johnson’s record. He’s very strong, and yet he can bend to another player. And he’s got a very warm, gentle personality. But Chester was still going to do the tour.
Jaco and I hit it off right away. And he told Zawinul, “I’d rather play with Alex because he’s lighter.” So the very last rehearsal, they asked Chester not to do the tour. And, for a minute, I was doing drums and percussion. I knew the tunes, so it was easy. But the same week, I also auditioned percussionists. And we hired Manolo Badrena, an up-front, dynamic guy who liked to sing, and scream, with a lot of energy. And then we went out on tour again.
MR: What was it like, playing traps with the band?
AA: Right off, I had to copy a lot of Chester’s playing, because that was the way for me to get to a new place. And then, he’d established a lot of obligate parts. But gradually, I developed my own style. It was more responsibility for me, being a drummer. As a percussionist, you get in and get out, anytime. As a drummer you have to keep the music together, and yet be fresh. And in Weather Report, I think, a drummer has to keep very open ears to Joe, Jaco, and Wayne. They play so much music on stage. And whoever makes the first move, you always have to follow. In fact, most of the band’s music is created live; when they listen back to tapes, that’s when they start writing tunes. In fact, every time we played one of our old songs, we’d play it differently—harmonically; rhythmically.
MR: So, what were the technical demands that you faced?
AA: Perfect time, of course, and they like to play on top of the beat. There’s no pushing—it’s light, floating. You reach and then stay there. Jumping music—a lot like Latin energy.
And then, on a tune like “Gibraltar,” I had to play so hard. There’s a long vamp; sometimes we’d play it for 15 or 20 minutes, and I’d be on top the whole time, all over the drums yet keeping the beat, answering Joe, going with Jaco’s groove, backing up Wayne, all at the same time, on only a two-chord vamp. It was like a chess game. In fact, Zawinul used to tell me, “In this band, you don’t play backbeat.” I didn’t know what he meant at first, but then I realized that he just didn’t want the band to sound like everybody else.
Weather Report music is so many different kinds of music. Wayne, for example, showed me, on the drums, about post-Miles Davis, 1970s jazz. He’d take one stick and play real loud, and strong, with a lot of decision; just imitating Elvin and Tony, the way they play.
MR: What is it like to play with each of the forces in the band? Zawinul, for starters?
AA: From my experience, it was funny, at first. I thought he didn’t have good time. But then, I realized it was the opposite. He knows rhythms inside out. It’s just that his approach of time is in his mind. And he’d play polyrhythms, inside, outside, long notes in these tempos, and instead of waiting for the next measure to apply the next note, he’d just drop it in somewhere else. So, you have to get out of your head to play with him, and just feel time, because you never know where the beat is going to fall. He’s great, man.
MR: And Jaco?
AA: He used to help me keep things together. Since he also plays drums, he’d find the figure that I played, and he’d do it on the bass. We’d follow each other. And then he might follow Joe, harmonically. So, I’d do a lot with colors, on the cymbals, to respond. And with the snare and toms—kind of a legit approach.
MR: What kind of drummer is Jaco, by the way?
AA: If he studied a few years, he’d be at the same level on drums as he is on bass. He has good facility. His father is a drummer. He likes to play very strong, with good time, and musically, he’s like Tony Williams or Jack DeJohnette.
MR: And Wayne Shorter—what did he bring out of you?
AA: For me, he’s my favorite musician. He’s the truest jazz player I’ve ever seen. Every time we played, even in rehearsals, he played different. He didn’t plan it; that’s just the way he is. I mean, he has no ruts or patterns he falls back on. Every time he plays, the music is totally new and fresh. We used to play a duet, live, on “Elegant People” or “Black Market.” The band would give it to us, after 15 minutes or so. It was kind of a Latin thing: I’d play the tom-toms, cowbells and cymbals, and be very Latin for Wayne. Wayne would just follow— he’s like a Cuban! And that’s very rare, because the clave we had was only in our minds—not heard. We just knew. For him to know where I was—whew! I mean, in moments like that I lose my mind, my eyes roll back in my head, and go white. And what I can’t believe is that Wayne’s do, too! And we’re both just spirit. And all the things I am—the little Peruvian boy who went to see his mother dance, the Elvin Jones fan, and timbalist come out.
MR: You were probably touching the same primal source that Latin music touches.
AA: Exactly. You learn all kinds of things, and then you just let them go, and you’re free. That’s how you play in Weather Report.
MR: Okay, so, then you left the group after three years, right? Why?
AA: Right, in 1978. They wanted a different approach. Jaco and the engineer began to tune my drums; they wanted to know how many drums I was going to record with; they told me what beats to play. It had its good side, but it was different than when I came in the band. Then, there were some business things I didn’t like. And, I’d been living in L.A. since 1977, and doing shows with Diana Ross and Thelma Houston, and I was really making more money doing that. I wanted to play different kinds of music. For example, studio work in L.A.
MR: When you did your first date, it must have been a shock, after being with a group like Weather Report.
AA: Oh, brother! It was like, for three years, you speak only Portuguese, and then, you have to start speaking English. I’d never been on any record dates except Weather Report’s and Perez Prado’s. But I had been playing with Larry Carlton, Greg Matheson and Abraham Laboriel at The Baked Potato. So they got me into the scene. But the first session I played, it was a disaster. With Weather Report, I changed the groove maybe every few measures. In the studio, I was just supposed to stay in the groove—but I couldn’t. Or, I couldn’t follow the click track. It was just impossible for me to adjust to anything. I think that with Weather Report, I had to get to an incredibly creative level. But I did it so fast, I bypassed myself, and that really screwed me up. Except, Abraham Laboriel knew my heart. And he knew that when he and I were together, we played fantastically. And he stuck with me. But I needed a big help to get myself together. And then, finally, talking to Abraham, I found out about the Lord.
MR: And backbeat, right?
AA: Right (laughs). Abe and [saxophonist] Ernie Watts got me into Lee Ritenour’s group. Everyone in the band knew I could play, but it was the first time I even considered playing solid and steady behind a group. Lee got me all these Harvey Mason and Steve Gadd records to listen to. And then, Friendship also grew out of Lee’s group.
MR: What’s the drummer’s chair like in Friendship, and in Lee’s group?
AA: I like the music. It’s new for me, and I’m open to learning. For records, I use less drums, and tune differently—lower on the bass drum, kind of mid-range on the snare, for a pop sound. On the road, I still use a smaller kit, but I tune more the way I always have. And Lee never wants me to play too much, but just keep that nice groove. And he likes consistency, of course. That’s why he’s using the Linn, too.
MR: How do you feel about working with the drum machine?
AA: I’m not the greatest when it comes to learning about machines. Harvey Mason programs it for Lee.
MR: How would you feel if you were forced to use it?
AA: Well, I don’t know about this particular machine. But I hear someone is working on another one—I don’t know the name—that anticipates the feel and the touch of a drummer. It costs $450,000 to build, so far, and only one engineer even knows how to work it. See, I’m not crazy about machines because I play so funny a style. It can’t reproduce my sound. And meantime, I’m very secure about the music and tunes that I play, and I know I’m going to be playing until the Lord takes me. I play congas, timbales, drums, and percussion. Other drummers who just play grooves, maybe they need to worry.
MR: Fair enough. Now, there’s also your own group. How do you pronounce it?
AA: Koinonia—coin-o-nee-ah. It’s a Greek word that means fellowship and communication. But, there is no leader. We’re all the leader; we’re all equals; the same caliber of musicians, and friends, and brothers in the Lord.
MR: And the fact that you’re all Christians will keep one of you from getting a lawyer and suing the others or getting egotistical.
AA: Exactly. We discuss everything as a group. In fact, we should do an album soon. Abraham is in Japan with Larry Carlton, and he’s looking into a deal for us there.
MR: Okay, let’s talk about equipment. What do you play?
AA: I’m still putting together a body of equipment that really serves me—a set of everything I play, all together. When I go with Lee, I use the Yamaha 9DR recording-type drums, which I endorse. And I use Paiste and A. and K. Zildjian cymbals, all together. The hi-hats are 14″: the bottom is Paiste, the top is an A. Zildjian. I use a 16″ for my left first cymbal and then an 18″, both A’s. Then, I use a 20″ right, a K., and a China-type that is Paiste. There’s an 8 x 10 tom-tom attached to the bass drum, and on the stand I use 13″ and 14″ toms. The floor tom is 16″ and on my left, by the hi-hat, I use an 18″ tom-tom. The stands and pedals are Yamaha, too.
My congas are Slingerland and my timbales are LP. Oh, and besides the floor tom, there’s also a 16″ tom, and a Rototom with a pedal. It can sound like a tympani, or like timbales. And then, my cartage company has two other sets in addition to the Yamaha: a Slingerland and a Rogers. The Slingerland I use for Latin-type sessions—like I’ve been doing some records for Brazil, with the organist Walter Wanderley. Or, an Ella Fitzgerald date of Jobim tunes for Pablo, that Paulinho Da Costa produced. The set is small, so it works for a jazz date, whereas, the Yamaha’s are for pop or rock. And then, I have a Rogers for club dates in L.A., because it’s flexible. I can tune the snare real fast, for the room. It’s pretty much like the set I have at home— in fact, it’s the set I used to play with Weather Report.
MR: How about sticks?
AA: Yamaha made for me, and sent from Japan, the special Hickory HI5A,s. They’re a little bit thick, but light, and it’s a good wood. So, they give me a balance between a jazz and a rock stick. They won’t break so easily. And, they have wood tips.
MR: Have you always used wood tips?
AA: Always. I don’t like the sound of a plastic tip on the cymbals.
MR: Why do you like the Yamaha set?
AA: It gives me the pure sound of the drums. And it’s well-made, secure. They look beautiful. And the bass pedal—it’s easy to use; you don’t have to kick hard. But most of all, I like the sound. So, from going to Japan so much and loving what I was playing, I finally got a set. They’re good for the studios.
MR: How much session work do you do?
AA: I don’t do more than three dates a day, if that’s what you mean. But I guess I’m in the first five calls for percussion or drums. Since 1978, I guess I’ve built up to three or four months a year on the road, and the rest, record or movie dates, pretty much everyday. I do a lot on drums with Lalo Schrifin (that’s TV). And Dave Grusin, too. And a lot of guys just call me for Latin percussion.
MR: How much percussion do you bring to a date?
AA: I have three Anvil cases full, that go everywhere. I’ve got all the standard stuff.
MR: What kind of percussion do you get called for?
AA: The strong, New York Latin grooves, timbales, Puente-type stuff. Like Nicky Marrero would do on the East Coast.
MR: I get the feeling you do about an equal amount of work as a percussionist and as a drummer.
AA: Yes. I used to get confused, but not any more. In three years of doing sessions, I’m able to adjust a lot more quickly.
MR: How about on the road? Do you play very differently then?
AA: Stronger, louder. And I like to give people a show. I jump up, and dance, and really perform; get a cowbell, and go up front, and ask people to clap. Or when I do a drum solo, I like to be flashy.
MR: Let’s talk about bass players for a minute. I get the feeling that Abraham Laboriel is your favorite.
AA: Yes. Obviously, I work with a lot of bass players. But on bass, Abraham is like Paulinho is on percussion—anything he plays is right on. He’s happy, and rhythmic, and he bends harmonically to any guitarist or piano player. And, he knows every kind of music. When we play, he puts all his heart into it, even into a single note. So many others maybe put everything in only now and then. But I like a lot of players. Stanley Clarke, who I did a movie date with. We’d never met, and we just matched. His time, his approach, and his musicality are so mature. And Jaco, of course. And a lot of others.
MR: How about drummers?
AA: Like I said before, drummers, to me, are whoever hits a drum. So I like the Papines Brothers from Cuba. I also like Bill Maxwell, in Koinonia. We’ve done Andrae Crouch, and The Archers, and a lot of Christian albums together. He’s Andrae’s musical director. He can play all kinds of music. I also like Larrie London. He did The Archers’ date. He came out here to do it and became ill, so I took over for him. Perfect time, solid— the first time he approaches a tune, it sounds like he’s been playing it forever. And he can keep his energy up for hours at a time.
MR: How would you characterize yourself as a drummer?
AA: I used to think of myself more in terms of my influences. Because in Peru, you had to look abroad. But now, I feel more like an American drummer. And I think that I can play more my own style—the way I play on Heavy Weather is 75% of it. Like, on the second side, there are four tunes. On the first one, I’m on traps, with a Latin beat, mixed with a little Elvin. The third one is a semiclassical thing, and I play some Peruvian beats with some legit snare, and some free Tony Williams bass drum and hi-hat. And the very last tune is Latin-jazz rock-fusion.
MR: And the other 25% is your grooving— like with Lee Ritenour.
AA: That’s it. That’s me.