Friday, January 14, 2011

Solo Drums From Newman Taylor Baker: "Drum Suite Life"

The drum set as we know it has a surprisingly short life. Essentially sometime around the turn of last century the basic marching drum ensembles of snare drum, bass drum and cymbals-hit-together-in-pairs became a three-piece set for a single player, thanks to the development of the foot pedal and the foot-activated sock cymbal or high hat. Since the latter device was good for four-square time keeping but not necessarily the best way to produce a cymbal crash, another cymbal or two on one or more stands became a part of the set. Eventually a set of tom toms were attached to bass drum and/or affixed with legs in the manner of a chair. The modern drum set was essentially finalized in that form and remains with us today.

Players at first regarded the set as if it was an adaptation of the marching ensemble for a single player. Snare playing still had a continuous phrasing style, with the marching drum rudiments continuing to form the essential technical vocabulary. Bass drum and sock cymbals played simple figurations in a consistently regularly articulated two-four or four-four for the most part, an extension of their alloted role in the marching band.

It took a number of years and the innovations of some key players to get to the drum set as a fully musical instrument. No need to rehearse the details, except to say by the middle-to-late sixties very sophisticated drumming and melodic solo stylings were out there in the hands of players like Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Ginger Baker and others. Max Roach did a number of unaccompanied drum solos for an Atlantic album in the mid-sixties, and it went on from there.

Segue to today and Newman Taylor Baker, who joins the ranks of the handful of drummers who have crafted an unaccompanied series of drum solos for a single album. Drum Suite Life (Innova 238) captures his creative abilities in an eight-part recital.

One thing to get out of the way first off: Mr. Baker is not technically overendowed. Compared with Rashied Ali, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette or Tony Williams, his independence (that is the coordination between all four-limbs) is not well developed, or at least is not made use of on this CD. His concept of time does not seem to be extraordinary or original either, compared with those named above. Further his command of marching rudiments, which he makes use of in a couple of segments, is only average.

However, what Newman Taylor Baker IS is imaginative and creative. "Red Brush Blues" is a brilliant transposition of the blues feeling to a solo drum piece. There are other nice moments on this disk. If you like the drums, you will appreciate this one.

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