established a precedent of writing about it when I see Brian Blade play, I should write something feeble about last night's show. Blade was playing with the guitarist/composer Joel Harrison, in a pretty all-star group including trumpet player Cuong Vu and bassist Kermit Driscoll, and bassoonist Paul Hanson. The band had mostly just met each other a few days earlier, and was playing very hard music. Sitting in the little balcony at Mississippi Studios, the sound was about one million times better than the last time I saw him play.
So, a few hastily-written impressions. I can't promise I didn't miss the big lessons of the performance (they're probably unwritable, anyway), or misapprehend what was really going on, but we have to start somewhere:
Everything he plays has dynamic shape; everything goes somewhere, usually in a way you can't miss. He shapes his lines dramatically, even while staying at a very low volume.
Most of his playing occurred in the pp-mf range— in a zone of very low stick heights for the drumset— and he appeared to be very comfortable expressing the music at that level. The bigger, more dramatic stuff, in the zone Blade is famous for, was very occasional; the group wasn't quite at an Inglourious Basterds-level build up : actual action ratio, but they were getting there.
He is a master at following a soloist's line.
Absolute confidence in the other players, that the time and the form will be there no matter what he does. I wonder how he would play with weaker musicians; you would think he would have to play more straightforwardly for them, but you also suspect he does his thing so well that he induces people to play far above their normal level, and that they will be able to play with him in spite of themselves.
He always seems to have a higher gear.
He has a right hand worthy of some of the Brazilian players I've been listening to— capable of playing very fast, very soft 8th notes.
Very little repetition. Gives the impression of very little straight functional drumming; plays his functional things in a fractured way— I want to say “displaced”, but that conjures up an area of drummer-jive that was not at all present in the performance. Let's say he moves things around from where you expect them to be, while still maintaining the feel. Plays more in terms of lines and colors.
Very post-Tony Williams— 60's Tony Williams. Very much in the “jazz percussion” mode I've talked about before— I've nibbled at the edges of understanding it, anyway.
He pays attention to sound, drawing a lot of different timbres out of the instrument.
When he needs to switch sticks during a song, he lays the unused set across his lap. Never used brushes, did use mallets.
He used some interesting— sticks, I guess?— possibly home made. They appeared to be sticks fully wrapped in soft material, with some padding. Laid a cloth across his floor tom during one tune.
Comping instruments should not jump on the drummer's rhythm when the drummer does a cross-rhythm; we've all heard it done a thousand times, to the point that we think it's good, but it isn't. It's a pretty crass form of playing for effect; an easy, highly abused device for giving the audience some tension and release. Still, a lot of very good players do it, and last night there seemed to be a couple of instances where the guitar Mickey Moused (that's Peter Erskine's term for it) Blade's cross-rhythm during a big crescendo, and Blade pulled away, declining to make the easy payoff.
Nothing to to with Blade, but Kermit Driscoll is an incredible musician.