Santana Africa Speaks
CINDY BLACKMAN SANTANA and KARL PERAZZO shine on an exhilarating new release from one of music’s truly timeless bands.
Drummer Cindy Blackman Santana’s call and response with conguero Karl Perazzo sets the tone for the heightened rhythmic interplay to follow on Africa Speaks. The versatile drummer gives her toms a workout on “Batonga,” leaning into the snare to craft a hybrid second-line groove as well, and, as “Oye Este Mi Canto” shifts from 6/8 to 4/4 funk-rock, she aggressively accents along with the leader’s searing guitar. With Perrazo keeping time on bongo, she fills the gaps with creativity and intent, capping the tune with crisp single strokes. The straight-up-and-swinging rock groove on “Yo Me Lo Merezco” bends into dancehall turf on an epic out-vamp, while the slamming pocket on “Los Invisibles” and jam on “Blue Skies” are as raw as Santana tracks recorded half a century earlier. The dynamic ensemble work of Blackman Santana and Perazzo fuels the band’s still-unique musical fire throughout. (Concord) Robin Tolleson
Oz Noy Booga Looga Loo
The New York–based guitar maverick brings together some big drumming names to have some fun.
Guitarist Oz Noy assembles his usual high-level assortment of sidemen for an album of pleasing, throwback jazz alongside grooving originals with modern flourishes. Steve Ferrone and bassist Will Lee keep things squarely in the pocket on “Boogaloo Fever” with their best finger- snapping “Sidewinder”-style feel, while Vinnie Colaiuta teams up with bassist John Patitucci for a laid-back shuffle on “Chocolat Souffle.” Elsewhere, Dave Weckl and bassist James Genus convene for a mellow, funkified take on Monk’s “Bemsha Swing,” allowing the drummer to throw in understated syncopations and accents underneath Noy’s sinewy guitar lines. Colaiuta returns with a 7/8 take on the boogaloo rhythm for the title track’s head, before he and the band veer off into open fusion territory. Check out the conversational way the drummer caresses his snare during Kevin Hays’ piano solo. A record of familiar covers and ready-to-eat originals might not be a novel offering, but in the hands of these players, the proverbial phonebook would sound good. (Abstract Logix) Ilya Stemkovsky
Grupo Fantasma American Music: Volume VII
Austin’s Grupo Fantasma continues to expand the very notion of Latin music on their latest long player.
Coming up on their twentieth year, the Grammy-winning nonet known for collaborating with Prince and spawning many side projects (Brownout, Brown Sabbath, Money Chicha) teamed up with producer Carlos “El Loco” Bedoya (Missy Elliott, Weezer) and did most tracking at Sonic Ranch studios in the border town of Tornillo, Texas. Drummer John Speice IV anchors the affair on drums, with Matthew “Sweet Lou” Holmes on congas, Jose Galeano on timbales, and vocalist Kino Esparza on percussion. The LP goes heavy on the cumbia, as on the boozy “La Cruda” and the more folkloric album closer, “Sombra Roja,” but the record travels enough stylistically that it’s impossible to pin it to a particular locale. “Nosotros” builds an arena-sized shuffle around a West African 6/8 core, “L.T.” explores a psychedelic Turkish sound with a guest spot from Sunny Jain of Red Baraat on dhol drum, and “The Wall” delves into political hip-hop with guest verses from members of Ozomatli. Grooves like “Ausencia,” which almost sounds like a songo played by Tony Allen, bear repeated listens.
The guitar and horns take the bulk of the solos, so if you want more than Speice’s lone Jabo Starks–style break on “Cuidado” (his funk expertise is all over the last Brownout LP) and a few choice timbale breaks from Galeano, you’ll need to check out a live show. (Blue Corn) Stephen Bidwell
Otmaro Ruiz/Jimmy Branly/Jimmy Haslip
Drummer JIMMY BRANLY slays on an album of high-level progressive groove music.
This trio’s debut is a drummer’s delight. Bassist Jimmy Haslip is, as always, melodic and foundational. Otmaro Ruíz shines in compositions and keystrokes. Drummer Jimmy Branly, however, nearly steals the show. JB’s playing is bold and dynamic, whether it’s big things like fluid 32nds around the toms, or little ones like his switch to cross-stick under Ruíz’s solo on “A Good Start.” Branly peppers the rhythm behind his bandmates on “Greed”—inventive groove-making, rarely satisfied with the norm. Off-beat syncopations on the intro to “Boomtown,” and the move to a cowbell-based flow, are a sweet prelude to his beautifully broken sixteen-bar solo. Drums steer the action on “Low Row,” from the intro’s joyous, barely contained barrage to a busy but not over-reaching swing, to a blistering fast finale. Meanwhile, “Part Time Smart” relives funk-fusion’s heyday, and the drummer’s backbeat is as strong as his solo is breathtaking. (Blue Canoe) Robin Tolleson
Betty Carter The Music Never Stops
Three drum masters elevate an ambitious concert from the vault.
The late, great Betty Carter is captured here in a terrific 1992 Jazz at Lincoln Center performance. The idiosyncratic jazz vocalist is backed alternately—and sometimes in tandem—by a fifteen-piece jazz orchestra, a string sextet, and a trio. The collective of A-list New York cats propel Carter in up-tempo swingers and ruminative ballads. On board are three—count ’em, three—of the city’s finest straight-ahead jazz drummers: Kenny Washington helms the large ensemble while Clarence Penn and Gregory Hutchinson alternate on the trio seat. The three share something in common: in their emerging years, they all worked with Carter, who was known for polishing young talents. The set is an education on supporting vocalists. Washington drives hard without overwhelming, while Penn and Hutchinson give smooth swinging support with keen attention to dynamics and space—an essential skill for accompanying the unpredictable Carter, who boldly explores between the rhythmic and melodic cracks. (Blue Engine)
The Littlest Viking Feelings & Stuff /// No Win downey /// Brutus Nest /// Royal Tusk Tusk II
Self-described math/emo/punk duo the Littlest Viking have released their third album, Feelings & Stuff, replete with drummer Christopher Patrick Gregory’s frenetic yet precise and structured playing. Featuring a surprisingly full texture for only two members, the L.A.-based duo have already completed a month-long domestic tour this year and are in the planning stages for their first tour abroad later in 2019.
No Win, a more-than-a-side-project helmed by ex-Fidlar drummer Danny Nogueiras, recently released its debut full-length, downey. Drumming duties on the album were handled by ex-Joyce Manor member Jeff Enzor, allowing Nogueiras to explore his musings as a bandleader and lead vocalist. The result is ten songs of emotionally charged power-pop reminiscent of the best of the ’90s and early 2000s slacker-rock with a modern edge. Enzor’s playing and meaty drum sounds throughout deliver exactly what the material needs. (Dangerbird)
The members of post-hardcore trio Brutus came together in 2013 in Leuven, Belgium, as members of a tribute band to seminal Swedish punk group Refused. After years of work on the road throughout Europe, Brutus has released its second album, Nest. Fueled by drummer and vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts’ dynamic and emotive contributions, Brutus has toured with Thrice and labelmates Russian Circles, as well as appeared at most of the major European rock festivals over the past few years. (Sargent House)
Canadian rockers Royal Tusk’s second full-length, Tusk II, features drummer Calen Stuckel’s muscular approach, which pays homage to his early-2000s influences while smashing the band’s material right into the sweet spot between reckless and contrived. Tusk II feels huge and anthemic without being too slick. (eOne Music) Ben Meyer
Drum Kit Fills (Vols 1, 2, and 3) by Mark Murphy
An Australian drummer and educator’s three-volume set features hundreds of fills to enhance your playing, regardless of style.
There’s a wealth of information contained in the three volumes of Drum Kit Fills, and the books escalate in difficulty gradually, so begin wherever you feel comfortable. Volume 1 contains fills on the simpler side, with 8th notes, flams, and triplets. By Volume 3, Murphy presents linear fills and odd times, and playing a few examples in succession almost feels like soloing musically. The author transcribes several actual solos across the books as well, summarizing what’s been taught throughout. Whether used for sight-reading training or for ideas to throw in at the end of a verse-to-chorus transition, if you’re short on inspiration, Drum Kit Fills will prove useful, regardless of what level you’re at. (markmurphymusic.com.au) Ilya Stemkovsky