A Drum Thing: Pt. 2 with Allison Miller & Carl Allen

Part one of our drum dialogue and listening session with Allison Miller and Carl Allen focused mainly on some of the ancestor immortals of the drum. In part two we visit some of our greatest contemporary drummers through their music and the keen insights of these two exemplary practitioners of the oldest external instrument known to man & woman.
Allison Miller1
Carl Allen1

WJ:OK, so we’ve heard several of the immortals, let’s hear some drummers on the contemporary side.

Matt Wilson “Happy Days Are Here Again”
Matt Wilson
WJ: First of all the song; we’re so used to hearing that piece played way up tempo and we’re used to hearing that on New Year’s Eve. [To the audience] I’m sure all of you recognized “Happy Days Are Here Again.” What was your sense of that performance?

Allison: I wanted to hear more, I wanted to hear where it went. I have to say I was mainly listening to the brushes, I was really tuned in to that. I don’t know who that was but the thing that I really enjoyed was that the brushes never left the head.

WJ: That was Matt Wilson.

Allison: Ah, I love Matt! I love how his brushes never left the [drum] heads, and within that there were so many sub-divisions of implied feels. He was playing his hi hat, but there was no need for him to play his hi hat. The way he was playing the brushes there was so much space, but there was so much direct interpretation of the time, but it still had a nice breath around it. I think Matt’s a beautiful player and one of the most musical drummers, and one of the most wonderful spirits out there and such a nice guy! He reminded me of my other teacher, his brush playing, and that’s Michael Carvin. Michael has that similar kind of sub-division on the brushes; he’s a master of playing the brushes, and Matt reminded me of the way Michael plays.

Carl: I loved that. Initially I thought it was Terell [Stafford]’s record, I knew it was Terell [on flugelhorn]. Matt reminds me in a strange way of Joey Barron, in the sense that these guys can really cover such a wide range, such a wide spectrum of genre and approach. Its always difficult to tell its Matt because he comes out of so many different bags; but great musician.

Francisco Mela “Toma del Poder”
Francisco Mela

WJ: We’ve had a couple of tracks where the drummer has been in duo, and the rest of the tracks we’ve heard the drummer has been the bandleader, and that’s the case with that particular track. That was the Cuban drummer Francisco Mela, who works in Joe Lovano’s two-drummer band Us Five, alongside Otis Brown lll. What was your sense of that?

Carl: I dug it. Initially I thought it was Brian Blade, but the sound of the drums didn’t sound quite like Blade. It took a little while to settle into it because it had a lot of different components to it, but I dug it because it had something different to it. I dig Francisco, I think he’s a great musician. I’ve heard him with [Us Five]. I remember the first time I heard it I said “now how’s this gonna work?” But they complimented each other real well.

WJ: I interviewed the two drummers [Mela and Brown] about playing together in that band and they were feeling the same way you were when they arrived at the studio and saw that Joe had two of them there; they wondered how that was going to work. Now, at this point, they’re pretty much completing each other’s phrases.

Allison: I didn’t know it was [Francisco], I actually thought it was Dave King until the horns came in and I thought, “oh no, its not [Dave King].” Like Carl I was distracted at first by the sound of the record and the sound of the drums and I think he’s a wonderful drummer and a wonderful musician, but for me I didn’t hear a melody and I never quite connected with the composition, so its not totally my cup of tea, but I appreciated it or not.

WJ: This next piece the drummer is not the leader he’s part of a cooperative ensemble.

Lee Konitz/Bill Frisell/Gary Peacock/Joey Baron “What is this Thing Called Love”
Lee Konitz
WJ: That was actually a performance of “What is This Thing Called Love”, and the cooperative band was Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock, and someone you mentioned earlier, Joey Baron. What’d you hear there?

Allison: I loved it, I love Joey Baron, and the whole time I was listening I thought “I know who this drummer is.” At first I thought Joey Baron, but then for a second I thought Paul Motian, a similar thing [to Joey] at the very beginning, but the second I heard Bill Frisell come in… I loved the looseness around it I loved the musical communication that was happening.

Carl: I also loved it, but it threw me off a bit because I was hearing Lee and I thought it sounded like Lee, but then I kept thinking of saxophone, guitar, bass and drums and started thinking of Sco-Lo-Fo, the group with Lovano, Al Foster and John Scofield. I dug it, it had an openness to it, but a forward motion to it.

WJ: Let’s hear a drummer in an accompanying role, and we’ll talk about working with singers.

Betty Carter w/Jack DeJohnette “Sometimes I’m Happy”
Betty Carter
WJ: That was Betty Carter, and I got the sense that you knew who that was Carl.

Carl: Jack [DeJohnette].

WJ: With Dave Holland on bass and Geri Allen on piano.

Allison: Wow!

WJ: So it wasn’t so much only a supportive thing.

Carl: No, but its interesting with Jack, he’s also a pianist and very much like Tony you can tell that he writes because he plays from a position… the way he orchestrates is like he’s used to respecting the melody and respecting things that are going on outside of rhythm. It was very, very different for Jack because you didn’t hear a lot of toms, but there were some dead giveaways with that conversation between the snare and the hi hat. Jack is an unbelievable musician!

Allison: When was that recorded?

WJ: That was one of Betty’s last recordings, “Feed the Fire” 1994, one of the last records she did for Verve.

Allison: I had no idea that was Jack [laughs]! I knew it was Betty Carter, of course, but that’s when my mind started playing tricks with my ears…

WJ: …And you started thinking about all of the drummers that worked with Betty?

Allison: Exactly, and it didn’t sound like any of the drummers that worked with Betty Carter!

Carl: When it first started you could hear Tony’s influence on Jack.

Allison: I loved that!

Carl: Yeah, it was great.

Dave King “Autumn Serenade”
Dave King
WJ: “Autumn Serenade,” and the drummer was the leader on that, and someone Allison mentioned earlier, Dave King.

Allison: I thought it was Jeff Ballard!

Carl: That’s a great treatment of that tune.

Allison: Is that a new album? I love Dave’s drummers; he lives in Minneapolis and talk about someone who really comes from a few different genres. He has a few really great rock bands that he either leads or is part of. I love his drumming, he’s so inventive and creative but he really respects the tradition too and he adds so much to everything that he’s involved with. That was gorgeous! The way his drums were miked and recorded, nice pillowy sound. I’m particular about how the drums sound in the studio, especially these days.

Shannon Powell “Powell’s Place”
Shannon Powell
WJ: Now there’s a drummer who is a reflection on where he’s from.

Carl: Herlin Riley?

WJ: Where do you think this drummer is from?

Carl: New Orleans.

WJ: There are a lot of master-level musicians who never leave New Orleans. You think about that HBO series “Treme” and the singer who sings that theme song, John Boutte; he’s a great singer, but he never wants to leave New Orleans! Well here’s another one; that was Shannon Powell.

Carl: Oh, Shannon’s a rough cat! I thought about Herlin, but the sound of Herlin’s cymbals is actually a lot darker. You know there’s a commercial I saw online with Wynton and Shannon’s playing and singing. Shannon, for those of you who don’t know, is an unbelievable self-taught musician who just happens to play the drums and sings. He’s straight out of that New Orleans tradition and once he starts playing second line, everybody’s getting up. He plays with such a happy feel; it was really interesting to see him with Diana Krall, that was a whole ‘nother thing. I love Shannon’s playing, he’s got that bounce, its just happy, and it so much matches his spirit.

WJ: Absolutely. He lives in Treme and he often cooks and people come and buy dinners on his front line.

Carl: I remember he told me once, “hey bruh, next time you come down to New Orleans you need to come to my restaurant. So I saw Donald Harrison and told him I had seen Shannon and he told me to come by his restaurant. He said “restaurant, he’s got a food cart, what are you talking about” [laughs]. That’s Shannon, you gotta love him!

Allison: The second that came on it was obvious, that’s not a New York drummer playing second line, that’s a New Orleans drummer. Its like when you go to Cuba and you hear Cuban musicians playing Cuban music in Cuba and you go… oh!

WJ:… This is how it’s supposed to be!

Allison: There’s no way to play that feel unless you’re from that place, and that’s how I feel about New Orleans. That was beautiful! And you know what I like about that, he was playing the melody on his drums and he had a few variations to the melody he was playing on his drums, and its like the perfect thing; loved it!

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2 Responses to A Drum Thing: Pt. 2 with Allison Miller & Carl Allen

  1. Bill White says:

    I have to thoroughly endorse Allison Miller’s view of the importance of a person’s geographical heritage and the effect it can have on ‘feel’ – something that transcends technique. I remember seeing Airto playing samba on the drumset at New York’s Fat Tuesdays in the early 1980s. Nothing outrageous in terms of dexterity but goodness gracious! He was not so much playing the drums as dancing all over ‘em.

    It’s not just place but time too. Not timekeeping(!) but the era in which musicians grow up. Some ‘feels’ are, in my view, virtually disappearing from the vocabulary. Two examples: Not that long before he died I saw Ed Thigpen in a trio with James Williams (also, sadly no longer with us) playing Neal Hefti’s Lil Darlin’. Thigpen’s groove on brushes on the slowest version of this tune I have heard was seriously deep and I’ve heard nothing quite like it since. Equally, seeing drummer James Vance play funky swinging double handed (dependence) shuffles with Jimmy McGriff. Now that feel is definitely disappearing.

  2. This is a great site. I added it to my bookmarks. Look forward to future post.

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