12 January 2013

Get Drunk, Break All Your Heads, Express Yourself

At any rate, picking up where things left off some weeks ago...

Tthe whole volleying of drummage & riddim t'ings has continued all this time that I've been on involuntary hiatus. Simon's latest roundup on the matter hinges on the role of the crucial role of the drummer in a power-trio context, he observing "by definition a power trio must have a good drummer because otherwise the whole thing topples, there's no compensating for a subpar limb when the animal is three-legged."

Which brings to mind some straggling thoughts I'd had after I figured I spent my thoughts on the topic. Something that falls outside the prior funk/jazz/soul spectrum. Although maybe not entirely outside that spectrum because it requires a sidestep into the prog/fusion canon.

But something having to do with crucial role of a drummer in a trio situation, especially in the instance when the drums is not only very primary in a very central and frontal way, but also when the drummer in pulling double duty as vocalist.

Anyway: "Prog" and its jazz-derived time signatures, its basis in rhythmic gymnastics and the like. Admittedly, I've never been much into prog. With the one main exception being Soft Machine, who I finally cottoned to quite late. Or at least Soft Machine while Robert Wyatt was in the outfit, since it was his presence that proved the main point of appeal to my ears. The voice, the songwriting, the wee bits of whimsy and humor he at times brought to the music.

Sadly, drumming exited the equation altogether after Wyatt suffering his crippling accident in 1973. As far as technique and skill are concerned, I can't say how Wyatt rated as a drummer when stacked up to contemporaries like Ginger Baker or Mitch Mitchell. There are times, especially on the first Soft Machine album, where you sense he and the band are getting a little too ambitious, slightly overshooting their abilities on some of the more complicated twists.*  Having had a lifelong interest in jazz, Wyatt once said in an interview that he knew he'd never consider himself an accomplished drummer, if only because he would always compare himself to the drummers he admired -- first-league jazz drummers like Max Roach, Tony Williams, and Elvin Jones. For that reason, he said, he'd learned to content himself with his abilities as they were, choosing instead to concentrate of exploring and developing what he could do with his voice, instead.

(In another old interview clip, Wyatt explained why he and the band opted to play in non-stop suite form -- having all the song run together with nary a break between them. He said they opted for that format when touring the U.S. as the opener for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Feeling meekly overshadowed by Hendrix & co., they expected they'd meet with a negative -- if not hostile -- response from the American audience. So by eliminating pauses and stringing all the songs together, they figured they could stave off the jeers, or at least drown them out.)

At one point, a contributor to an earlier installment of Simon's thread cited This Heat's "24 Track Loop." Not so much a power trio, but a trio capable of delivering a great deal of power, thanks to vocalist and kitman Charles Hayward as the dynamic core of the much of the action; and -- as with Soft Machine -- the drums frequently playing a very central and prominent role, being the engine that propels the material. The same being often the case with Hayward's post-This Heat project Camberwell Now...

This Heat were one of those odd, slightly incongruous entities at the time -- another instance, as was the case with a few other groups of the era, of a unit made up of members who were older that many of their punk/post-punk peers, and who came from a background that ran contrary to the usual punk pedigree, but were draw to the music and to the scene for the experimental potential it offered. In this case, Hayward and Christopher Bullen came to post-punk by way of playing free-form, improvised music; and had spent a good portion of the 1970s kicking around on the margins of the prog scene, with the former having started out playing in an outfit with Phil Manzanera and Matching Mole bassist Bill MacCormick. This latter prog connection makes perfect sense in a way, if you consider This Heat as a post-punk equiv of Soft Machine, except with the Canterbury and overtly jazz aspects replaced with a krautrock-ish minimalism and experimentation.

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* Which in a way connects with something about Wyatt that I immediately found endearing, something that you hear in his voice and his lyrics, as well. That being a bristling against limitations, which disarmingly suggests an all-too-human frailty and a sense of humility. (Which, in its turn, runs to the contrary of so much of the pomposity and mystical bullshit that plagues large portions of the prog canon.)

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