The U.K. prog-rock sextet’s latest album may adhere to a lyrical narrative, but according to drummer RAY HEARNE, they’re still dedicated to evolving their sound.
Embracing the mystery of their curious Cockroach King character, Haken’s new release, Virus (Inside Out Music), completes the storyline begun on their 2013 album, The Mountain, and developed into a full-fledged saga on their 2018 LP, Vector. Drummer Ray Hearne’s notable evolution across Haken’s eight albums informs his keen, visceral contribution to the band’s most aggressive and complex material to date on Virus. Mixed by heavy music heavyweight Adam “Nolly” Getgood, both the album and Hearne’s kit sound absolutely massive. Standout moments among Virus’s eleven sprawling tracks include Hearne’s mind-bending metric modulations and dense ride patterns on “Carousel,” razor-sharp grooves on “The Strain,” and relentless adherence to the complex riffs in “Messiah Complex ii: A Glutton for Punishment.” We spoke to Hearne about the making of the album.
MD: What was it like working with Adam “Nolly” Getgood on successive albums, and was your approach to tracking Virus colored at all from your experience with him on Vector?
Ray: Absolutely. Nolly changed my perspective on recording drums very much. He was, as you can imagine, quite specific about his mic choice and placement, but also about tuning, head type, snares, cymbals, etc. Tracking a successive record with him ensured that everything would be smoother the second time around. He’s certainly had a big influence on how I approach my setup, tuning, and playing in and out of the studio.
MD: Does Virus continue the trend toward heavier material begun with Vector, or does it venture elsewhere stylistically?
Ray: We always try to venture elsewhere stylistically when writing new music. The song “Prosthetic” is just one of many examples throughout the album of the way we’ve tried to evolve our sound this time around. To me, Virus is a very eclectic album that starts off tipping the hat to some of our heaviest influences, but before long there’s art rock, trip-hop, indie, ambient, and, of course, the absolute ridiculousness of “Messiah Complex.” I had a lot of fun pushing my sound and developing my vocabulary even further with this album.
MD: Did the writing process on Virus differ from Vector?
Ray: Vector was perhaps one of our least “organic” albums in terms of the creation process. For various reasons, we were a little more segregated from each other, and that may or may not have had an effect on how it turned out. But the music was developed in a very remote and individualistic way. I personally love it and am extremely proud of the music on Vector, but perhaps even more so with Virus, because this album represents a turning point for the band. We worked in a far more collaborative way on it.
MD: What elements do you tend to bring to the songwriting process, and has that evolved throughout your tenure in the band?
Ray: It can really be anything from a near-complete song to just a few vocal melody suggestions and my own drum part. But yes, my influence in the band has certainly grown and evolved over the years. When we started writing music together back in 2005, Richard [Henshall, guitars and keyboards] was the main composer in the band. Since then we’ve become far more collaborative, and it’s pretty much a free-for-all.
MD: How do you approach creating interesting linear, mixed-timbre patterns such as the one you play in the intro and verse 1 of “Canary Yellow”?
Ray: I do love linear grooves, and if I have some pre-existing music to work to from one of the other guys, it’s always fun to try out my own parts using the shapes and rhythms of their ideas. But sometimes it can be even more interesting to create a groove that feels and sounds natural and idiomatic.
Ray Hearne plays Natal drums, Samsun cymbals, Angel snare drums, and Cympads and uses Remo heads, Roland electronics, Gibraltar hardware, and Soundhoops drum mics.
Dave Douglas Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity
A tribute to the jazz giant would typically reference obvious stylistic/repertoire landmarks. Not so here.
On Dizzy Atmosphere, iconoclastic trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas offers a set of mostly originals, loosely inspired by Dizzy Gillespie’s rhythmic and harmonic concepts and his indomitable spirit to create something new. It works. Douglas has chosen a two-trumpet frontline with Dave Adewumi, supported by pianist Fabian Almazan, guitarist Matthew Stevens, bassist Carmen Rothwell, and drummer Joey Baron. An artist who rarely repeats himself, Baron encounters the music with fresh drumset artistry far afield from clichés or “patterns.” And he has a boast-able advantage, having actually played with Diz. Still, that doesn’t sway him towards any predictable tack. Swinging, inventive, and conversational, Baron is a thrilling master of musical suspense throughout. The two Dizzy compositions include “Manteca,” on which Baron stokes the dual trumpets with his Afro-Cuban interpretations, and the unlikely pre-bop number, “Pickin’ the Cabbage,” where he channels Dizzy’s legendary humor. A master stroke of intuition. (Greenleaf Music)
Joey Baron on His Creative Process
“I believe music is deeper than the surface constraints of genre and categories. I look for what is behind the music. Knowledge gained from all the musicians that I have been fortunate enough to be around personally is what gives me insight when approaching a musical situation. Making myself aware of the subject matter is also crucial. Dave Douglas’s arrangements and compositions were clearly conceived and constructed from an extremely well-informed perspective. My approach to this recording was to respect Dave’s vision and honor the music as best I could.
“The key for me was to simply listen. I bring my experience to every musical situation strictly as a tool kit to aid in realizing what happens in the present moment. That is what enables me to ‘bridge’ seemingly diverse worlds. The great power of creating music in real time is that it can transcend all notions of genre and style. Music is always the shared goal.”
Thana Alexa ONA
ANTONIO SÁNCHEZ turns in a dynamic performance in some fresh settings.
.Merging her message with melodic, dynamic songcraft, vocalist Thana Alexa proves herself once again a formidable talent. Her dynamic voice can be crystalline, bell-like, or powerful, and when soloing she exhibits incredible flexibility. For this album, thematically inspired by the Women’s March, she employs Antonio Sánchez’s powerful, colorful drumming. The two have collaborated before under Sánchez’s leadership, but Alexa’s compositions offer something different. Musically, elements of pop, Latin, rock, jazz, and more coalesce, placing Sánchez in areas we don’t normally hear him. His playing is superb throughout, flowing supportively while prodding the songs with endlessly creative fills. On the dramatic “The Resistance,” an intricate, thuddy tom groove propels a backbeat under sinuous vocals, until three minutes into the song, when it opens up to a hip swinging pocket propelling a powerful message. The subtle brush groove behind “You Taught Me” and the fills peppering the rock-oriented “Teardrop” are other highlights. Then “Cassandra” opens with an ostinato that morphs into a syncopated groove, yet returns about four minutes in as a backdrop for Sánchez to solo against. Creative and inspired, this is a refreshing album on which to hear Sánchez, and an excellent display of Alexa’s talents. (thanalexa.com)
August Burns Red Guardians
The Pennsylvania melodic metalcore quintet’s eighth album is possibly their most aggressive work to date.
From Guardians’ album opener, “The Narrative,” it’s evident that drummer Matt Greiner and his bandmates have put in the work to outdo even themselves. Racking up two Grammy nominations and several solid Billboard chartings across their seventeen years together, the band took most of 2019 to nurture the eleven dense songs on their latest album, working once again with the production and engineering team of Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland. ABR took far longer to craft Guardians than any of their previous albums, and the drums sound huge and natural throughout. Greiner’s thrashy drive on “The Narrative,” bashing chorus groove on the tuneful “Lighthouse,” and razor-sharp double bass playing on “Empty Heaven” highlight his work here. (Fearless)
TAKING THE REINS
Anika Nilles & Nevell For a Colorful Soul
The drummer/leader returns with catchy tunes and drumming fireworks.
German drummer Anika Nilles created a buzz years back with some red-hot playing on YouTube videos, but with a new studio effort, she and her group Nevell display real musical interplay. On For a Colorful Soul, Nilles and company tear into an assortment of instrumental fusion numbers with no shortage of notes, odd times, and funky grooves. Nilles lays down a wicked linear beat on “Neon” that gets the head moving but features monstrous tom fills and some nice metric modulation. The syncopated snare pattern in “Dark Chocolate” breaks up the pulse for maximum twisted effect, before things finish with a full-on Chris Dave-style, machines-falling-apart drumming outro that’s pure rhythm-nerd gold. There have been plenty of fusion albums featuring dexterous drumming meant to excite players looking for inspiration, but few have been this much fun. (Sakurai Records)
Steve Fidyk Battle Lines
The drummer, educator, and MD contributor serves as a swinging sideman alongside jazz notables such as Walt Weiskopf and Jack Wilkins. As this spirited disc confirms, he’s also a commanding leader and composer.
Rooted in mainstream traditions, especially bebop, Steve Fidyk expands upon that vocabulary on Battle Lines with a first-rate lineup featuring pianist Peter Zak, bassist Michael Karn, saxophonist Xavier Perez, and trumpeter/flugelhorn master Joe Magnarelli. Favoring concise, melodic tunes with crackling rhythmic energy, Fidyk’s tight drumming broadcasts vigor and clarity. There’s no better spotlight for his mettle than this session’s up-tempo boppers, such as the title track, where his driving authority exudes ease under pressure-cooker metronome markings. Along the way, he also offers funk with a swinging swagger (“Loopholes”), fluid 6/8 propulsion (“Churn”), soulful brushwork (“Lullaby for Lori and John”), and dazzling compositional solos (“Bootlickers Blues”). Fidyk cites Joe Morello as an early teacher and mentor, and that influence assuredly shines in his musicality and finely chiseled technique. (Blue Canteen Music)
Jay Rosen & Brian Willson Mystery Brothers
An inspired drum duo explores the colors of the kit.
Two drummers, two kits. In the right hands, a lot of magic can happen, as it does here. Originally conceived by Brian Willson, a retired professor and free-improv drummer, this series of duets with like-minded drummer Jay Rosen reveal inspired, creative pieces that emphasize melodic elements. Focusing on timbre and color throughout, we hear Willson and Rosen explore sound, pattern, and melody as they play with and against each other. Never overbearing, touch and tone are at the forefront. For example, the melodic tom pattern played by one of the pair on “Unity” creates a mellow motif over which the other improvises. Part of how this works is the way the two trade phrases, solo together, and alternately support each other as a drummer would playing with any other musician. Using brushes, mallets, sticks, hands, and more, these two percussive masters create an inspiring album that pushes the boundaries of solo and duo drumming. Beautifully recorded and a great listen with headphones, at twenty-six minutes it leaves the listener wanting more. A creative, thoughtful program.
Day Dream Originals
The ever-searching drummer PHIL HAYNES leads his trio into sophisticated and swinging waters.
Phil Haynes has flourished in diverse settings, including jazz adaptions of American folk songs via his band Free Country, free improvisation with No Fast Food featuring sax star Dave Liebman, and his solo drum album Sanctuary, a subtle meditation on percussion texture. But his trio, Day Dream—featuring the elegant pianist Steve Rudolph and notable bassist Drew Gress—is perhaps the best swinging forum for showcasing his lyrical, sensitive side. On numbers such as “Wedding Waltz,” the trio favors melodicism and uncluttered interplay, bolstered by Haynes’s exquisite, nimble touch that draws a beautiful, balanced sound from his resonant, open-toned (including bass drum) kit. Especially impressive is Haynes’s articulated, expressive brushwork that rarely relies on typical snare-centric stir-and-tap methods. Instead, his continuum of varied rhythms and shifting sonic attacks fuels an across-the-kit drive. Whether swinging hard, delivering sizzling eight-bar breaks, or injecting shades of funk, Haynes says it all with brushes alone. (Corner Store Jazz)