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The Gig: Dan Weiss

Expansive focus

Dan Weiss in performance at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico

“The American drummer is a one-man percussion orchestra.” This insight is often attributed to Max Roach, who spent his career putting its message to the test. Unless my research has misled me, the actual quote comes from a 30-year-old radio interview, collected in Ben Sidran’s invaluable book Talking Jazz: An Oral History. Roach’s phrasing in the original context is slightly different, conveying a larger point that his instrument is a uniquely American invention. “When you look at percussion across the world-Africa, Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, South America-the drummers don’t play with their feet,” he adds, reckoning that the drum set is “probably the only original instrument that came out of the U.S.A.’s experience.”

I recently reconsidered Roach’s assertion in light of Sixteen: Drummers Suite, the new album by drummer and composer Dan Weiss. Released on Pi Recordings, it’s a suite of dazzling sweep and kaleidoscopic detail, uncompromising in its adherence to a creative vision. Which is another way of saying that it’s a totally bonkers listening experience. (That’s a note of admiration as well as caution.) Weiss, inspired by Roach and five other jazz-drumming totems, has taken that “one-man percussion orchestra” idea to fanciful extremes. He composed his suite for a 16-piece chamber ensemble, and he marshals its timbres with mad-scientist panache, honoring his heroes in ways they never could have begun to imagine.

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