Taking the Reins

Photo by Gulnara Khamatova

Jonathan Barber VisionAhead

The debut recording from the top Up & Coming drummer in this year’s Readers Poll isn’t your typical young-gun-goes-for-the-jugular release.

Jonathan Barber’s feel is light and propulsive. You can hear it right from the start of “Statement of Vision,” the opening track of Vision Ahead, his debut as a leader. Barber’s burning stick flurries and glittering full-set deliveries evoke the feeling of being in the driver’s seat of a Formula One racer. The album is put together in suite-like fashion, which gives the music breadth, shape, and reach. Performed by Barber’s well-oiled and intimate group, the cuts glide from the funky title track and contemplative mid section (“Doubt,” “The Covenant,” “Think on These Things”) to the sun-streaked flotation device of “Airport” and the forward-moving, Michael Brecker-like swing of “Crown.” Later Barber solos on the kinetically swinging “Mr. JB” and lays down a fat funk groove on “Time Will Tell.” Finally, “Believing in the Reunion” rotates from a brief introductory solo to a spacious, melodic statement, with Barber serving time-stretching figures and combustible sticking throughout. (

Ken Micallef

Kobie Watkins GrouptetMovement

A fiery sophomore release from a swinging force.

Here’s some heavy jazz cred: on his last tour (2012), tenor giant Sonny Rollins chose Kobie Watkins for the prestigious drum seat. That says it all, but in addition, the native Chicagoan drummer and educator also gigged with the likes of Kurt Elling, Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, and Arturo Sandoval. Growing up in the Windy City, Watkins played in the jazz, Latin, and gospel scenes, and his drumming/composing style organically mixes those elements. On his second disc, Watkins leads his “Grouptet,” an excellent piano/trumpet/sax/bass/drums unit. Styles shift quickly within numbers, guided by Watkins’ boiling, dead-on drumming. From his hard-hitting 6/8 thunder on “Falling Upward” to his sensitive orchestrations on “Six Moods,” Watkins dictates the kinetic energy. He delivers plenty of knockout drum features, sometimes soloing over the final head, as he does to dramatic effect on “The City.” This formidable drum leader truly takes charge. (Origin)

Jeff Potter

Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band West Side Story Reimagined

Sanabria’s modern expression of a classic theater score.

First comes the haunting, iconic three-note whistles and finger snaps. Then, something new—a naked clave rhythm. The message is clear: bandleader/drummer Bobby Sanabria will put his own stamp on this pinnacle score of American musical theater. Leading his twenty-one-piece ensemble, Sanabria hits another peak in a noble career, creating a thrilling, impassioned take on Bernstein’s masterwork. West Side Story dealt with the struggles of Puerto Ricans finding their rightful place in 1950s America. In a brilliant stroke, Sanabria musically acknowledges today’s ongoing story of striving newcomers by incorporating rhythms from all across Latin America and Africa as well. The live recording captures superlative musicianship and imaginative canvases from multiple arrangers, including Sanabria. His precise, cracking drumming drives the band with dazzling command of swing and world grooves. And when he locks in with percussionists Oreste Abrantes, Matthew González, and Takao Heisho, it’s blistering. The struggle continues; proceeds will go to Puerto Rico hurricane relief. Sanabria’s art speaks volumes. (Jazzheads)

Jeff Potter

Other Drummer-Leds to Check Out

Airto Moreira Aluâ /// Ratatet (Alan Hall) Heroes, Saints and Clowns /// Chris Beck The Journey /// Cliff Brucker Full Circle Vol. 2 /// Tim Solook Jacksonville Rd /// Hal Howland Every Time It’s You /// Phil Stewart Melodious Drum /// Maciek Schejbal Afro Polka

A Double Shot of Jack

Franco Ambrosetti Cheers

Eliane Elias Music from Man of La Mancha

After a storied career spent redefining the limits of jazz drumming with artists like Miles Davis, Jack DeJohnette continues his prodigious recording output, playing on two albums released in the first months of 2018. Trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti’s Cheers finds DeJohnette splitting drumming duties with Terri Lyne Carrington, including an impressive pairing of the two on the track “Drums Corrida,” in which listeners can’t necessarily tell where DeJohnette’s dexterous fills end and Carrington’s pinpoint patterns begin. On other sections of Cheers, DeJohnette simultaneously sustains right-hand ride patterns and left-hand hi-hat accents, each so intricate that it’s difficult to imagine many players would be capable of recreating either on its own. While the joyful jazz compositions on Cheers feel designed to highlight Ambrosetti’s trumpet, there’s plenty of interesting rhythmic work happening throughout, courtesy of DeJohnette and Carrington. (Enja)

Jack is also behind the kit on Eliane Elias’s jazzy reimagining of the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, ensuring that even musical theater–averse listeners will find quality musicianship and engaging instrumentation in this set. Undergirding each arrangement is DeJohnette’s talent for tasteful intricacy, shading, and texturing the show tunes until they feel vibrant and alive. (Concord)

Keaton Lamle

SOTL Grand Hotel

Power trios typically throw macho lightning bolts. SOTL do it differently.

Sure, SOTL can fire up the joint, as they prove on “Warm-Up” from their second release, GrandHotel. Here guitarist Florent Athénosy hammers halo-circling chords as drummer Andy Shoniker plies scattershot rhythmic tremors. But more often than not on this eighteen-minute collection, SOTL play dark and moody, one meditative groove after another. The title track is bittersweet, with pretty guitar chords gliding over mallet-whacked toms and billowy cymbal crashes. Even when navigating the odd-metered edges of “Song for Lo,” Athénosy leans toward the dreamy while Shoniker plays a deep funk pocket with neck-cracking odd accents, though generally floating forward like an airy zeppelin. Shoniker is deceptively graceful in the closing track, “What We Do,” dancing around the groove like Lowell George’s mythic fat man in the bathtub. (Alter-Nativ)

Ken Micallef


Gong Bass Theory by Georg Härnsten Egg

An inspired substitute for double bass, and a guide for thinking beyond your feet.

Georg Härnsten Egg, drummer for Swedish metal band Dynazty, won’t win any points with double bass purists with his new method book. But his ideas on mimicking the style using a gong bass drum set to the left of his hi-hats is not only ingenious for those looking to break the mold, but also extremely useful for players who are in search of novel fill ideas. This stuff will require practice and reworking your mind to hear your left hand committing to the role your left foot would usually have. The lessons here range from triple paradiddles between your right (kick drum) foot and left hand, and instruction to keep your left foot playing quarter notes on a hi-hat and switching up right-hand patterns. Egg gives examples inspired by Meshuggah’s “Future Breed Machine” and throws in some transcriptions of his parts on Dynazty tunes. In the real world, gong bass drum setup space could be at a premium, and tuning the instrument to exist alongside a normal kick is a concern. But the artistic possibilities here are endless. (Go to to order, and to watch the author demonstrate exercises from the book.)

Ilya Stemkovsky

The Drummer’s Role by Jose Duque

A beginner’s guide to drum basics, with some revealing insight about our function on the instrument.

This book by Venezuelan Berklee grad Jose Duque is broken up into three sections. The first is appropriate for beginners and includes the author’s ideas on everything from setting up your drums to musical form to subdivisions, including various notated examples. Duque recommends other instructional books, videos, and some classic records for students to check out as well. The second section contains Duque’s favorite warm-ups, including a triplet exercise the author saw Dave Mattacks perform at a clinic. The concluding chapter contains a series of interviews with drummers and other musicians about what our role is in the studio and on the gig, and it’s full of enlightened comments from people like Antonio Sánchez and keyboardist Adam Holzman. There are other places to get the setup and rudiment information found in this book, but the real-world Q&A with the players is informative, even if it doesn’t beg to be referred to time and again. ($18,

Ilya Stemkovsky