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JT Editor Evan Haga Introduces the November 2014 Issue

The power of two

Some of my favorite JazzTimes pieces throughout the years haven’t been profiles or music reviews but rather the more thematic and conceptual features-for instance, Geoffrey Himes’ 2013 article on the history of the bass clarinet (which, it’s worth noting, recently earned its author and outlet a prestigious ASCAP Deems Taylor Award).

Over the past summer, as I was taking in various gigs and sifting through stacks of promo CDs, I kept thinking about bigger-picture topics that might do well in this drum-themed November issue. At the Umbria Jazz Festival in July, I heard pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s Volcan and it hit me. The quartet features Giovanni Hidalgo and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez on percussion and drum kit, respectively-two Eddie Palmieri alumni who create simmering excitement without ever seeming to get in each other’s way or overpower the group. It was a remarkable hookup to witness live, and it made me realize how many great groups, in and out of Latin jazz, have employed a kit-plus-percussion setup in the rhythm section. More important, it made me want to learn about how this particular rapport works-its strengths and potential pitfalls. So I assigned Thomas Conrad a feature detailing both the history and theory behind these relationships, from Chano Pozo and Kenny Clarke through fusion and into contemporary teams like Daniel Sadownick and Antonio Sanchez.

While I was assembling this issue (and the Jazz Education Guide), I continued to dissect these dynamic rhythmic kinships because they seemed to be everywhere. At a Town Hall tribute to John Lurie’s music in September, a brilliant nod to Lurie’s National Orchestra featured the original union of G. Calvin Weston and Billy Martin plus John Zorn in Lurie’s spot and guest percussionist Cyro Baptista. And I kept spinning Ginger Baker’s Why? (Motéma), his recent release featuring saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, bassist Alec Dankworth and Ghanaian hand drummer Abass Dodoo. Now in his mid-70s, Baker has aged in the best possible way a musician can: The years have streamlined his technique but not damaged it. He has always been a purposeful drummer, even in wide-open situations-his band with Peter Brötzmann and Sonny Sharrock moved with surprisingly coherent propulsion-but now his style comes off as one even, limber wave of rhythm that crests modestly and roils on. Dodoo gets in where he fits in, and with Baker’s ensemble-geared attack and mesh of influence from jazz, R&B and West Africa, it’s sometimes difficult to discern who is playing what.

Originally Published