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April 2009

Billy Martin
In Concert

Through 18 years with the creative organ trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, drummer Billy Martin has developed an amoebic style, and name recognition that goes beyond most percussionists. The Houston Community College Department of Fine Arts realized this, commissioning Martin to perform a solo concert at its Heinen Theater on March 26, 2008. The show features the former New York City Brazilian percussionist’s unique approach to the drum set, hand drums and chamber music pieces encompassing gongs, bells and various other toys.

On the opening “Six Grandfathers,” Martin switches between pairs of mallets to create different tones on three concert bass drums and three gongs. The piece honors Sioux Indian spiritual leader Black Elk (1863-1950). Martin then picks up agogo bells to introduce “The Daybreak Star Herb of Understanding,” which also features other metallic objects, including a frying pan. He offers a lesson in limb independence by performing the intro to “Whirlwind Chaser” with his feet on the drum set while his hands play the agogo bells, eventually turning the piece into a full-on drum solo that would impress Buddy Rich.

Martin rarely repeats a feel or theme, performing “Killing the Drought” on the marimba-like wooden balaphone and “Duck Pond” through shaken caxixi and seed pods, plus birdcalls. Late highlights include the Afro-Cuban “Burundi” (played with mallets on congas, bongos and cowbells), “Guavas Feeding Birds” on an array of metal objects, and Martin’s bonus commentary on his instruments and master classes at the college. The one-hour performance may appeal mainly to the percussive and MMW-minded, showing elements of the drummer that go beyond that trio’s shows. But the project’s single shot focuses on one of the few percussionists who could’ve pulled this off with one try and no editing.

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