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: Modern Drummer Festival 2000: Saturday

Now that scientists have named a dinosaur after Mark Knopfler, they should also consider honoring Don Brewer. Brewer is the stickman behind legendary Jurassic-rock band Grand Funk Railroad. Thus, it was surprising to see him featured on this latest collection from Modern Drummer magazine’s annual festival.

Because Brewer humbly, if accurately, describes himself as a “garage drummer,” and his basic, straight-ahead backbeat style is in sharp contrast to the impossibly rhythmaniacal thwackery of his fellow percussionists at this weekend event. Of course, it was undoubtedly Brewer’s thunderous beats that first drew many of those same panelists and audience members into begging mom and dad for a drumset.

On the Saturday tape, Brewer thrills the audience by doing little more than playing and singing along with his own records, including such GFR classics as “I’m Your Captain” and “We’re An American Band.” The latter begins with a typically anthemic riff, which Brewer amusingly muffs while trying to demonstrate it. Slowing the tempo, he reveals the elegant simplicity behind its power.

But simplicity is in short supply at MD2K. On both tapes, drummers are flailing at hyperspeed behind enormous kits, like spider monkeys on acid. In large part because of tapes like the Modern Drummer series, and instructional videos in general, the dissemination and advancement of technique has, like everything else in the world, accelerated. So the Sunday tape begins with the winner of the “Undiscovered Drummer” contest, Mike Dangelo, coolly playing a solo of such startling skill that it would have been unbelievable at Carnegie Hall in 1938. I’m guessing Mike is 12 years old.

On the Saturday tape, undiscovered drummer Tony Medeiros is equally impressive with his ambidextrous cymbal crashing, though he’s much older-and bigger. Medeiros has biceps Lou Ferrigno would envy, and you wonder: With all the time he obviously spends working on both his body and his drums, where does he find time for a life?

Following Medeiros, Street Beats, five Nashville cats doing paint-bucket-style drumming, offer a theatrical, tightly syncopated set. Alternating between swift unison sticking and amusingly complex patterns, this group would clean up outside any subway station.

All of the performances are shot from several instructive angles, including overhead, providing clear views for anyone wishing to try to steal, er, emulate, the much-practiced powers on display. Even with freeze-frame technology, that’s not an easy task.

Most of the featured drummers are also seen in brief interviews. Dave Lombardo, from the metal band Slayer, exhorts the kids to “let go” of their musical education and play from the heart. He also takes several opportunities to taunt guitarists, stopping one solo to remind the audience that they should demand publishing rights for any cool drum riff they contribute to the songwriting process.

After all the bombast, Nashville session man Paul Leim provides a refreshing change, playing simple but effective country shuffles with Blasticks. Leim drops names like Trisha (Yearwood), Shania (Twain) and Manhattan (Transfer) that he’s worked with. A former L.A. session man, Leim explains the intricacies of the “Nashville number system,” where recording charts are a series of numbers representing chord progressions, rather than explicit notation.

Saturday’s show ends with Latin-jazz phenom Horacio Hernandez taking the stage with a full band, which includes Marc Quiñones and Michael Brecker. Hernandez’s amazingly fluid hands keep the not simple arrangements pulsing. Even when the camera reveals that he’s keeping contrapuntal time on a cowbell attached to his foot pedal, it’s difficult to believe that all that sound is coming from one guy. Hernandez’s efforts were clearly so impressive that Hudson Music has released a separate video of their full performance.

On the Sunday tape, Tokyo’s Akira Jimbo makes a strong case for technology replacing keyboardists instead of drummers. Jimbo’s setup includes a programmed trigger system capable of producing synth-based melody, harmony and chords from his multitude of toms and pads-all of which he combines in a couple New Agey workouts. I don’t think his chops were grown in a lab, but that might be next.

Billy Ward offers the most intriguing and inspirational set. With a bop-fusion-rock style, Ward can produce lightning fills across cascading toms, but insists that one should make the “hands obey the ears.” Sounding as much like a preacher as teacher, Ward quotes James Taylor: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” An appropriate aphorism for drummers.

Interestingly, Ward’s kit features a “woofer” bass drum: a tall 28-inch bass set directly in front of the smaller kick drum. The result is a surprisingly deeper sound, though it looks a bit odd.

We’re long past the days when women drummers are shocking, though the drum thrones are still mostly male territory. Still, is it un-PC to suggest that it’s no coincidence that lone female drummer Hilary Jones’ performance is almost meditative? Unlike the usual flash from the guys, Jones gradually develops her solo from simple shakers to syncopated sticking.

I’m not sure what this means, but every one of the drummers featured on these two tapes plays with match-grip style. Except for Vinnie Colaiuta, who is seen receiving his reader’s choice award as drummer of the year. Maybe the traditional grip is disappearing, but I take some comfort in Colaiuta’s win.

In an interview, Colaiuta tries to explain a signature riff that features a dropped 1/16th note. Words fail him, but when he takes the stage with his four-piece band Karizma, his hands speak volumes.

Originally Published