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Mark Guiliana: Beat Music! Beat Music! Beat Music! (Motéma)

A review of the drummer/composer's latest album

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Mark Guiliana, Beat Music! Beat Music! Beat Music!
The cover of Beat Music! Beat Music! Beat Music! by Mark Guiliana

Of all the musicians who performed on David Bowie’s Blackstar, drummer/composer Mark Guiliana seems to have been the most affected by its insularity; his own subsequent music has split into two separate personalities. Guiliana made electronic music as early as 2012’s Beat Music and 2014’s The Los Angeles Improvisations, but post-Blackstar—as his latest, triple-titled release confirms—the divide between that and his more freely acoustic music couldn’t be greater.

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet’s Jersey arrived in 2017, as pure as a hard-swinging night at the Village Vanguard, where the quartet held court this past spring. By contrast, Beat Music! … sounds like one mad professor with Ableton Live software as his slave. Entirely through-composed with nary an improvised solo, Guiliana’s playful electronica vibrates and buzzes, boings! and sizzles like Kraftwerk matched up with Luke Vibert, Giorgio Moroder, and Tom Tom Club.

Implemented by Guiliana, bassists Chris Morrissey and Tim Lefebvre, and keyboardists Jason Lindner, Jeff Babko, and BIGYUKI, among others, Beat Music! … is consistently surprising. Its restraint is its charm. Opener “Girl” bruises with a slo-mo synth bass line doubled on acoustic drums, which gets overtaken just a few bars in by charged, sparkling, and ominous synths. “Bud” is all dub fracture and crippled fairytale sounds; the funk drum beat of “Bullet” sideswipes circular synths and spoken-word demands; “Home” spins Vangelis-worthy melodies over a 4/4 house beat; “Roast” is as catchy as Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown.”

Guiliana uses L.A. and NYC’s finest jazz cats to spin his electronic web, but are they necessary? He clearly has the vision thing down, from yellow sweatsuits to grooving robotic beats. “Beat Music! Solo” beckons.


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Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.