The first Drum Nation album (�Volume One�) emerged as a result of Pete Morticelli�s vision. The head of Magna Carta had long observed that an unusual sense of community existed among drummers�a rare breed, to be sure! What would happen if they were given free creative reign, license to submit music unfettered by commercial constraints? Thus was born Drum Nation - Volume One.
Volume Two continues the tradition. This time, Pete has ventured into the label�s vaults and retrieved some of the most stirring performances you�ve ever heard�from indisputably the most influential drummers of our time.
One of these is, of course, Mike Portnoy. From his slamming half-time intro groove on �Meetings� (Andy West with Rama) to his tribal toms during the bridge, he submits some of his cleanest playing on record. In the midst of syncing spot on with keys and guitar hits, he fans a mounting fire of excitement.
Pat Mastelotto is a drummer conversant in electronic and acoustic drums. On�Toccata�, taken from Encores, Legends and Paradox, it seems that the acoustic kit prevails�but we�re never quite sure, such is the broad palette of tonal textures. Mastelotto creates a drum track that is a study in ambient concert hall orchestral dynamics�the syncopated rolls towards the exit are a perfect example. They transform neatly from playful jazz-influenced improvisation to tightly scripted ensemble figures, executed with aplomb.
This is perhaps not your usual Dennis Chambers fare, this track �One Less Worry� from Niacin. It lies somewhere in the jazz-meets-jam-band arena. As with any Chambers track, however, it is grounded in his iron-fisted groove. Catch the way Dennis builds a staggered, off-the-beat cymbal bell pattern into a spectacular solo break that pays heed to the underlying pulse while vigorously accelerating to a rollicking double-time conclusion.
Ahh, the great Terry Bozzio, one of the most in command drummers of our era, here represented on �The Last Page� drawn from Bozzio/Sheehan: Nine Short Films. Billy�s restless and probing bass find the perfect tonal match in Terry�s prodding snares-off approach, not to mention those curtain-like synth pads. Get ready for a nouveau beat poet interjection and the frisky drum interplay Terry constructs to enhance the lyric �quickening causes�.
�This is Clyde Stubblefield counting because I�m the opener!� And with that, the acknowledged guardian of funk leads the first Clinton Administration line up into �Cosmic Slop�. A member of that aggregation for One Nation Under a Re-Groove, Clyde is one of the most sampled and imitated drummers in history, if only for his work on James Brown�s �Funky Drummer�. In �Cosmic Slop�, his drumming takes a less syncopated (but eminently funky) tack as a response to the dense backdrop of guitar (Phil Upchurch), organ (Robert Walter), and Skerik (sax). Also nailing it are Melvin Gibbs on bass, DJ Logic on turntables, and Chuck Prada on percussion.
Virgil Donati is out of the gate frantically at the top of �Space Martini�. In typical Donati fashion, the feel is totally in rein, yet it has a raw punk edge. As the track progresses, Virgil�s seemingly obsessed drumming reveals an uncanny telepathy with Derek Sherinian�s keyboards. All the while, running double bass drums underscore this largely vamp-driven tune, the snare occasionally rocking on all fours (again, that punk ethic!). The bridge features a harmonic resolution that balances out the track nicely.
There is nothing uncertain about Tim Alexander�s treatment of �My Fellow Astronauts� from Attention Deficit�s �The Idiot King� CD, given his oft� predisposition to airy, ethereal drumming. His tom work during Alex Skolnick�s guitar solo is so deliberately punchy it reminds of Ginger Baker during his freest moments with Cream. But soon Tim�s back on full kit�pay special note to the snare /cymbal interplay�and the Baker similarity evaporates.
And now for something completely different, Keith Carlock live on �Steroids� from Oz Noy- Live. With its James Brown-ish guitar, the tune finds Carlock manipulating traditional funk patterns in crazy ways, ever-heightening the intensity. This is clearly not the Keith Carlock with Sting and that�s okay: He�s all over this track like a rash and he�ll have you scratchin� something fierce!
While the intro lush organ brings �Herd Instinct� (from Andy West with Rama) to life, Rod Morgenstein keeps the track alive and pumping with a variety of rhythmic devices. Everything from his half-open hi-hats juxtaposed with synth accents to his carefully manipulated kit work complementing oboe-like patches is done with exquisite taste, vision, and muscle.
Ordinarily Simon Phillips tends to politeness, as befits a man of British upbringing. These traits are absent on �The Barbarian� (from Encores, Legends and Paradox). Those signature Phillips bass drums, loose and airy, are put to full, plundering good use, right from the intro. Elsewhere he�s nailing a solid rock groove, supporting a recurring keyboard phrase you ought to find familiar. With his commanding fills and immovable time, Simon is the perfect drummer to add value to an ELP classic. Hard to believe but he cut the track in his house (with Ed Stasium at the board).
He�s in a one horse race, Josh Freese, in �Baby-Faced Assassin� (Stripsearch). His snare/tom/bass drum fills are a study in punk assed power. Somehow they add to the anarchy prevalent here�while strangely contributing order. Another listen to this track and you�ll conclude that Freese is a man in love with his instrument and its potential. And this love is downright infectious.
We sometimes take Anton Fig for granted. After all, we�ve seen him nightly on Letterman for well over a decade. Time to pause and reflect on his percussive depth, his refined sense of humor, and the obvious research he�s conducted in order to manage a part such as the one on this cover of The Meter�s �Cissy Strut� (OZ Live by Oz Noy). This version features dropped beats, unexpected key modulations, and an incontrovertible groove that alludes to Ziggy�s quirky hi-hat part.
And finally we have the New Orleans prodigy, Stanton Moore, tackling an old Sly And The Family Stone favorite, �Family Affair� (from the Clinton Administration�s �Take You Higher�), making it dance with his happy-go-luck groove and jalopy fills. He certainly is at home with Robert Walter on Hammond B3 and three exceptional guitarists: Firkins, Haque, and Hitchcock. The joy, if not already obvious, begins to bubble over the pot during Eric Levy�s Rhodes solo and thereafter. Check out the guitar/drum fill at 5:15, pure creative collaboration, pure family affair, and, what�s more, pure drumming spirit as manifested in Drum Nation!
(Notes by T. Bruce Wittet, longtime contributor to Modern Drummer magazine and Associate Editor of Muzik/Drums Etc magazine on www.magnacarta.net)