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Billy Martin: Solo Live Tonic 2002

The drummer for Medeski, Martin and Wood brings his painterly instincts and polyrhythmic sensibilities to bear on Solo Live Tonic 2002. In the tradition of solo drum masters like Max Roach, Milford Graves and Andrew Cyrille before him, Martin juggles time signatures and colors grooves with a myriad of textures in this free-flowing affair that showcases his adeptness on the kit. Some highlights include his Roach tribute, “Max Moon,” his dramatic use of space and dynamics on the tribalistic “Six Grandfathers,” the gamelan-sounding metallic percussion piece “Coconuts Feeding Birds” and his melodic mbira (thumb piano) jam on “Flora Aura.” Martin also shows his masterful way with the clave on the solo cowbell piece “The Daybreak Star Herb of Understanding,” then conjures up some African magic on “Burundi Drums” and “Talking Drum.” He closes the daring solo drum showcase with a series of three “Finales” that blend masterful control and sheer explosive abandon on the kit.

Former bandmates in the Lounge Lizards and John Lurie’s National Orchestra, Martin and Grant Calvin Weston have developed a tight chemistry in their drum battles over the years. Live at Houston Hall in Philadelphia celebrates the 10th anniversary of their propulsive and highly interactive duo. From the kinetic bombast of “Overture” to the slow-grooving, syncopated “Top-Side City,” from the samba flavored percussion jam “Agoxixi” to the churning 12/8 percussion-drum duel on “Sahara,” Weston and Martin whip up a visceral, polyrhythmic storm. While they share a common vocabulary throughout, their most conversational encounter occurs on “Talking Drums,” in which Martin on the West African percussion instrument engages in a spirited dialogue with Weston’s funky backbeats.

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