Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Billy Martin

Last night I had the opportunity to hear the critically acclaimed electro-acoustic groovy jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood at the Calgary Jazz Festival.

It was the first time I've seen this trio perform live although I have seen the drummer perform solo concerts in the past. When I stepped into the concert hall I was shocked at the size of John Medeski's setup which included a grand piano hidden among an assortment of keyboards and a B3 organ. Maybe his set-up just seemed large in comparison to drummer Billy Martin's minimalist four-piece drumset and small table of assorted gongs, shakers and metal objects.

The audience sure got it's money's worth as the band played two long sets which each exceded over an hour. The music they performed consisted of extended groove based pieces with much emphasis on atonal soundscapes. While far from being just a "jam band" the group explored a variety of grooves ranging from slick funk, afro-cuban to all out free jazz. I was really impressed by not only the group's deep grooves but their ability to exploit and explore all the sonic possibilities of their instruments. And for John Medeski there was lots to explore ! I especially appreciated his use of a melodica which, as far as I could tell, was pumped through some sort of distortion or effects patch (!) Nice.

In particular I was quite impressed with the drummer Billy Martin. Martin is a great drummer obviously influenced by the great funk drummers such as Bernard Purdie, Clyde Stubblefield and Zigaboo Modeliste. He has a great feel and gets a nice pocket with a light touch.

However, what really knocked me out was Martin's obvious deep connection to Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, West African and Indonesian Gamelan rhythms and how he seamlessly integrates these patterns into his playing. His sense of texture and sound is also quite impressive and he has uncanny ability to orchestrate the music around him perhaps more so like a "percussionist" than a traditional groove-based drum set player. He's very creative and you never quite know what he's going to do next.

In watching Martin play an extended solo to begin the second set, the phrase "MORE COWBELL" (borrowed from the SNL skit with Christopher Walken) came to mind...

Here are a couple of clips showing Billy Martin in action:

For those interested in Martin's approach to coordination and stylistic approaches, check out his fine book "Riddim".

The coordination required for these patterns isn't easy and there is alot of information to be found in this book. The way he wrote out his patterns, using his own notation, is also quite inventive and worth checking out. I'm pretty sure that this book will eventually go down as one of the great drum set instructional books along with Stick Control, The Art of Bop Drumming, etc.

So, if you have a chance to check out Billy Martin or Medeski, Martin and it !



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