Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jazz percussion

This is a concept I've been kicking around for years, I think since the term first came up for me in reference to Tony Williams in the history section Jack Dejohnette/Charlie Perry book:

Tony didn't use the bass drum and hi-hat in the conventional way [...] to state time. [...] Nor did he on the standard ride rhythm for his cymbal pulse. Rather he played a succession of quarter-notes interspersed with two- and three-beat figures which he generally wove into the overall rhythmic and tonal composition consisting of drums and cymbals. With this collective unit he stated the time and pulse: Jazz drumming had moved decidedly toward jazz percussion.

It's a compelling idea, even if I still don't know what it means, exactly. Usually percussion in a jazz context means hand or Latin percussion; but in reference to the drumset it evokes for me an approach more along the lines of modern concert percussion, which I think is what he is getting at. Beyond providing the traditional functions of timekeeping, fills, setups, punctuations, and comping, the drums would be a more independent coloring and sometimes co-soloing voice, as happens here:

A little more after the break:

What's notable here is that the timekeeping here is just coloristic; he'll do it for a few measures, then back off, particularly as the piece progresses. I also observed in transcribing this piece that Tony also will often play only one part of the instrument at a time, treating the drumset almost as a multi-percussion set up at times. As a player who latched pretty ferociously onto Elvin's "one instrument" approach early on, the idea of playing more with the parts of the instrument as individuals provides a big creative opening.

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