It’s difficult to separate the sound from the playing. But I’ll pick Battle Cry by Ryan Kisor with the incomparable Brian Blade on drums. It sounds like you’re in the room with him. Blade’s playing is so dynamic, so you hear his many different drum and cymbal tones. Also, the feel is so swinging, and that adds to the sound as well. I guess if I had to describe the tone in one word, I’d say that it’s “buttery.”
Roy Haynes on his recording Out of the Afternoon. His drumset has a balanced, tonal quality that makes the room sing with a large focused sound. The master drummer at his finest.
Tony Williams on Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! It’s so warm yet clear and crackly at the same time. And it’s super melodic and grooving. Williams drops bombs and goes for broke. It’s everything I love about the drummer, and the kit sounds of the genre and era.
Gary Hobbs on Stan Kenton’s Kenton ’76. I love every second of every track, along with Ramon Lopez playing those percussion parts. Every little bongo roll into a nice cymbal hit on the set is so clean.
The drum mix on Three Wishes by Spyro Gyra [with drummer Joel Rosenblatt] is so damn good. I want to harness it for a future record.
I’m going to go with Buddy Rich’s Big Swing Face, which the Buddy Rich Big Band recorded live in 1967. The arrangements are super tight, it’s an excellent recording, and Rich’s drums, which I think were made by Slingerland at the time, are the quintessential sound for a smokin’ big band. They were able to go from a whisper to a roar. And then of course, there’s Rich’s phenomenally tasteful and virtuosic playing.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on Caravan. The rich timbre of his toms and the precision of his playing throughout this album, and especially on the title track, set it apart. I’ve heard some drummers refer to other recordings of “Caravan” as sounding like a refrigerator falling down a flight of stairs. But Blakey, the master that he was, maintained rhythmic clarity throughout.
Any of the Miles Davis –in’ records, such as Steamin’ or Workin’. Philly Joe Jones knew how to get the best tones out of those drums, and his playing is unmistakable.
I’d say Montreux Alexander—Live! At the Montreux Festival 1976 by the Monty Alexander Trio with Jeff Hamilton on drums. This record features Hamilton’s supreme sensitivity, gracious grooves, and sublime soloing. Bravo!
A couple favorites would be John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme [Elvin Jones], Art Pepper’s Art Pepper + Eleven [Mel Lewis], and Miles Davis’s Milestones [Philly Joe Jones] and Miles Smiles [Tony Williams]. Also, anything engineered by Rudy Van Gelder. Nobody can match the tone quality he captured on Blue Note and Impulse! recordings.
I’d say the Chick Corea Akoustic Band’s self-titled album. Dave Weckl’s drums sound just phenomenal, and the dynamics and mix are great. You can really hear the ghost notes and just how intricate the parts Weckl plays are—right from the opening track of Coltrane’s “Bessie’s Blues” to, for my money, the best version of “Spain” ever committed to record.
Billy Kilson on Dave Holland’s Extended Play: Live at Birdland. His sound is super aggressive with razor-like precision and a supreme command of space and dynamics. So much is going on at once, but Kilson manages to maintain his own presence without stepping on the arrangement or other players. I also love the bright openness of the toms.
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