Photo by Ben O’Brien

Nerve After the Flare

JOJO MAYER returns to the acoustic jazz format he cut his teeth on.

Nerve, Jojo Mayer’s drum ’n’ bass ’n’ everything else collective, has been pushing the boundaries of electronic music for more than a decade, so it’s a wonder to hear their new material with a totally acoustic setup of piano, upright bass, and Mayer’s unaffected, beautifully organic drumkit at the forefront. Check out Mayer’s bouncy brushes in “A2,” featuring an undeniable groove established between his hands and kick drum that gets the head bobbing. There are tracks with dramatic mallet swells (“A5”), pieces that showcase Mayer’s excellent cymbal touch and swing (“B2”), and a lovely solo drum workout that sounds like Art Blakey if he lived in Brooklyn today (“A6”). Mayer spent years developing his jazz chops, so After the Flare is less of a stretch than a rekindling. And the remarkable recording is rich with detail, so those who only know Mayer from his machine-like beat music would be well served to check out his approach here. ( Ilya Stemkovsky

Finally George Life Is a Killer

TODD SUCHERMAN takes a break from Styx for some kinder, gentler rocking.

German multi-instrumentalist Finally George (Georg Hahn) writes prog-esque rock with changing moods and flavors, and allows Styx drummer Todd Sucherman enough space to create inventive patterns but also play in a simple manner so the melodies stand out. On the atmospheric “Tears of a Million Lies,” Sucherman lays down a flowing tom groove in the verses before opening up wide into pure power ballad territory in the choruses. For the keyboard solo in “She,” the drummer weaves hip, syncopated accents over the 7/4, playing big snare and tom fills for added weight, and he makes the 12/8 of “Human” feel uncluttered but perfectly supportive before the track shifts. Life Is a Killer is a revealing showcase for Sucherman’s subtler playing, giving him breathing room to fill in the material’s space with enough rhythmic information to satisfy himself, rock out when needed, and shine a light on his other, equally impressive life as a session player with the goods. ( Ilya Stemkovsky

MSM Schmidt Life

An electric jazz oasis of top-name drummers bringing their A game.

German composer Michael Schmidt (aka MSM Schmidt) writes the kind of material killer players love to eat alive, and there’s no shortage of that on this collection of funky fusion. The revolving cast of drummers assembled includes Dave Weckl, who grooves his behind off with ghost note–laden backbeats on “Trance” and drives “Rush” with syncopated jabs and slick splash work. Gary Novak flows over the 7/4 of “Saudade City” with sharp sidesticks and subtle kick doubles, and Virgil Donati delivers blazing technique and tasty fills on the aggressive “Medusa.” Jost Nickel also steps into the ring with solid time and crafty hi-hats on the title track. The sound quality is superb, and all the kits have a uniformity of tone from track to track, so the listening experience isn’t so jarring when the drummers switch. Those searching for some freshness in their fusion have found their no-holds-barred match of drumming heaven here. (

Ilya Stemkovsky


Chris Beck The Journey

The drummer’s debut as a leader reaffirms his rep as a profoundly swinging player of strength and sensitivity.

A much sought-after drummer in his native Philly, Chris Beck relocated to New York in 2006 and has fueled a long list of jazz notables ever since, including Cyrus Chestnut, Rufus Reid, and Oliver Lake. Beck leads a consistently smoking acoustic quintet rooted in straight-ahead, and penned five fine compositions of the album’s ten tracks, including “Ode to Mother Young,” a fluid 3/4 tune showing his keen sense of nuance behind soloists. “Byrdlike” highlights his ease with up-tempo boppers and affords some sizzling soloing space. In contrast, Beck draws from his gospel roots on “Yeshua (His Love),” laying a firm backbeat while breathing above it. Changing the palette, the drummer surprises with an R&B-tinged take on Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” featuring his own heartfelt vocals. Expect Beck to have a long and strong presence in the jazz world. (AWMC)

Jeff Potter

Aaron Comess Sculptures

Ray LeVier Lost and Found

Michael Waldrop Origin Suite

Three varied projects spotlighting how to lead and support from the drummer’s chair.

Aaron Comess has built his reputation on his solid pocket, so a synth-laden soundscape project featuring dirty backbeats (“Dogs”) and J Dilla–style crooked patterns (“Whaky”) is a welcome addition to his studio work. Comess’s drums are at the forefront of the well-produced session, but the general musicality and ethereal, melodic content make for a satisfying listen. (

Ray LeVier drums and sings on his new collection of angsty alternative rock, switching from the simple rock beats of “I Am No One” to spacious funk syncopation in “Tenzigs Ascent.” Content with not blowing his chops over everything, LeVier lets the songs do the talking, and he throws in small but effective fills in just the right spots. (

Origin Suite is a swinging, grooving big band disc with drummer, vibraphonist, and composer Michael Waldrop adding thoughtful support under some fine frontline solos. Waldrop works out over the Latin flavors of “Origin Suite: 3) Al Final de la Noche” with sensitivity and wonderfully controlled snare and tom interplay. ( Ilya Stemkovsky


Advanced Groove Concepts: Developing Your Weaker Hand in Modern Grooves

by Sam Aliano

On the surface, the idea behind this book is to further develop the left hand in drumset playing. But there’s a deeper idea at play.

In Advanced Groove Concepts, drummer, educator, and MD contributor Sam Aliano states that, in the past, when playing the backbeat with a few ghost notes, he felt something was missing. His solution was to develop what he calls playing “lead snare.” By focusing on playing quiet rhythmic figures (all 8th notes on the snare, for example) in addition to the backbeat with the rest of the groove, his book builds up to some pretty complicated patterns.

Whether the topic is unison-handed playing, soloing, or creating syncopated left-hand snare patterns within a beat, there are some interesting ideas to explore here. One might think of Aliano’s approach as advanced ghost notes. Another way to think of it is learning to feather the snare drum, as one might feather the bass drum in some jazz styles. As a technique, this is worth exploring, although in application such a style could sound cluttered. Yet helping players to break out of snare drum auto-pilot is a noble idea, as is aiding in the development of a strong left hand, and this might be just the book to help you do that. (Wizdom Media) Martin Patmos

The Sly Hat by Taylor Friesth

An involved look at some beyond-the-norm functions for the hi-hats.

Many drummers have grappled with the ingenious Steve Gadd pattern on “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” with its combination of foot-stepped and sticked hi-hat parts and overall inventiveness. That idea of incorporating the hi-hats in unusual ways is behind this book, and quite the challenge it proves to be. Author Friesth quickly gets into the tough stuff, with sections on adding the “sly hat” on the upbeat 16ths (“e” and “a”), phrasing over a samba or tumbao, and something he calls a 3-way flam (described as closing the hi-hat with the foot and sweeping the snare hand from the hi-hat to the snare, all in one stroke). Obviously this material will require lots of work from dedicated students, and there’s the practical question of how this delicate hat-play will be heard if you try to throw it in during your “amps stuck on 11” classic-rock bar gig. But the info contained herein will open your mind if you allow it. ( Ilya Stemkovsky