13 December 2012

Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Skins

(Or: Drunmmage, Sample-Ready Crescent City Breakbeat Edition)

As I've probably made clear here before, when it comes to certain strains of music, I have my prejudices -- a subjective region-specific bias. The South factors into this in a big way, in which the city of New Orleans figures heavily.*  It's pretty much where funk -- the sound, and most notions attached to it -- hails from. Bearing that in mind, if it's drums you're looking for then there's the larger chunk of The Meters' discography to scratch that itch a myriad times over:

Beyond that, another thing that grabbed my ear (and etc.) many years ago were deep-grooving jazz tracks and albums that -- as it turned out -- shared a common element. That element being the part played by New Orleans-born drummer Idris Muhammad.

Admittedly, I never had much luck getting into Muhammad's 1970s CTI albums as bandleader. But other than that -- as a sideman he has a discog running through the 1960s and early '70s that's a first-rate treasure trove. Aside from playing on over half a dozen Lou Donaldson joints and also backing a number of other CTI labelmates, he also laid down kitwork behind Charles Earland, Grant Green, Houston Person, Gene Ammons, Melvin Sparks, Leon Spencer Jr., and a host of others. The groove that Muhammad lays down is often deeply New Orleans -- with deep traces of the distinct N.O. bottom-heavy swing, as well as the slight asymmetrical accents and contrapunction that gives the beat its roll and punch. But whereas the standard N.O. style of the era usually meant leaning heavily into the beat and striking the kit hard, Muhammad's sound was usually much more understated -- more quiet, paring back on the punch and the volume, letting the beat speak for itself without pushing it into the foreground...

Stylistically, the two above are a study in contrasts; with the second demonstrating just how subtly on-point Muhammad could be. But then there's the sessions he did with Grant Green and Rusty Bryant, where he gave it the full wallop...

On the livelier numbers, Idris often takes the wheel at the start. But on others -- particularly on "Nautilus" and "Sookie Sookie" -- I like the way he sort-of creeps up from behind, his drumming gradually gaining momentum and force, until he's stealthily inched into the lead. (Or damn near.)

Closer to the rawk side of things, one of Muhammad's earliest notable gigs was something of a cross-over affair, playing in the band of composer Galt MacDermot on the latter's musical score for Hair...

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*  Much of course has been made of the Congo Square legacy of the New Orleans sound. But I'm fairly certain that the city's status as a major port city had a lot to do with it as well -- especially the role it played as a gateway to the Caribbean and to various points in South America. On that latter count, there's also the Carnaval connection factoring in, as well. Meaning: While the African lineage plays a major part, a variety of "Latin" influences factor in, as well.

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