Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Monday, October 31, 2016
It was my quarter break at work so I had a four day weekend ahead. Thanks to careful planning my old band mates from the band that was called Soma, which we now Christened the Blue Note Ritual was about to be in the same room for the first time in 22 years. The big day arrived and my drums were set up in my living room as I waited for Bogdan "Bobby" Jaliu and Mike "The Funkster" Young to arrive. I was anxious to say the least but there was no reason to get too excited so I just sat in my living room and read a book as I waited for their arrival. Soon I heard the sound of tires slowing down over some gravel so I looked out of my front door and there they were. There was no way I could wait for them to knock on the door so I was outside ready to greet them and help them bring in their gear. I had seen Mike off and on for the past few weeks because we had been rehearsing the bass and drum parts so he would have to get the second hug. This was the first time I had seen Bobby since our last performance back in 1994 so I had to greet him properly.
We had some small talk while the guys set up their gear and before we knew it we were facing each other and ready to count off the first song. I clicked my sticks and away we went...I couldn't believe how good we sounded. It was obvious that we all did our homework but we honestly sounded like we taken a few weeks off from rehearsing instead of being apart for over two decades! I was locked in with The Funkster (thanks to some rhythm section rehearsals) and Bobby was lighting up the top layer of the music with his funky guitar playing and licks that rolled over the top like a smooth operator. The last time the three of us played together we were three young blokes rocking out at The Fireside in Downey, CA. Now we are three family men with careers (Bobby is a physician, Mike works for the military and I am a teacher) but still rocking out with the same intensity that we had back in the day. I credit that to the chemistry that we had from day one because once you discover such a connection with a group of people it never goes away.
We continued to rock on for a couple of hours before taking a break to have some lunch. During our manly time over some pizza we shared our life experiences and just like before, the conversation turned to such matters as religion, politics (we are daring to say the least), social issues and other mind bending issues. As usual Bobby and Mike had some insightful thoughts as they are both really smart guys who know what is going on around them. This just goes to show how amazing they are as people because they are not only great musicians but also good people who are able to challenge my thinking as well as my musical abilities.
After lunch we got back to work and focused on one particular song that we were doing more than just relearning. Back in the day it was more of an up tempo funky adventure with some stops and rhythmic changes but as I found out during my rehearsals with Mike, it never sounded the way he had envisioned back in the day. Now it was time to do it right.
Now I was playing more than just up tempo grooves as he wanted me to orchestrate some Latin rhythms around my set of drums. Further, while he was lucky enough to keep his bass lines almost as they had been Bobby had to rework almost all of his parts. As expected, the chemistry of the group took over and just like that he had a new part that was not only amazing but totally fit what Mike and I were now playing together.
Rehearsal came to an end and that would be the end of our day together. Bobby decided to rest up a bit as he was still feeling his east coast time zone. Mike also felt the need to rest up as he was used to his early riser schedule. I wasn't so lucky as I actually had a gig that night with the Tony Corrales Band as we were about to end of our performance hiatus by rocking The Maverick for their weekly Ladies Night event. The show went well but I was toast because playing a four hour set is a lot of work as it is but it's even harder when you spend the early part of the day with the Blue Note Ritual.
The next day we met again at my place and went through a quick run through of the songs. We were all surprised how good we sounded the day before so we felt really good about the session the following day. So we did a quick run through the songs that we felt best about and did some extra polishing on the tunes that needed a little bit of work. After that I brought my daughter along as we went out for a snack and for a little bit of sightseeing in my hometown of Sahuarita, AZ. We had a great time just hanging out during what was a beautiful day.
Later that evening I took my family to meet the guys and Mike's kids at a restaurant that Mike highly recommended called Chef Alisah's We sat around and talked about the band and our two days of reconnecting with everyone offering their love and support. Then the food came and we celebrated with one of the best meals I ever had in my life. It was a great way to end the day so we were more than excited about our recording session, which would start in about 14 hours.
The following morning the three of us met for breakfast in order to fuel up for our big day. As always, we laughed and enjoyed each others' company before heading off to the studio. We arrived, met engineer Martin Cardinas and then had our stuff set up and ready to go. We were pumped up at the idea that we were actually in the studio and ready to document our music the way we should have many years ago. Even though it had been over two decades since we had recorded together it was something we had actually done several times in the past so we were comfortable and confident with each other.
Surprisingly it didn't take too long for us to accomplish our goal. We needed to get the bass and drums down while Bobby put down some basic tracks that Minh would be able to write and rehearse her parts to.
I was very pleased with what I heard and most excited to hear what would be the finished product. Martin then asked how long we had been playing together and we laughed when we said, "two days, after a 22 year hiatus." He was stunned as were we but all throughout this experience we could feel that connection that had always existed between us. Knocking out my last take was both thrilling and sad because I didn't want this moment to end but there is real work to do in the real world so I spent several minutes making suggestions of what still needed to be done. Once we broke down our gear we transferred the files to a flash drive and then thanked Martin for doing a great job before heading off for an early dinner.
Dinner was over so Bobby and I said goodbye to Mike who was heading home to Sierra Vista. Bobby went back to his hotel to rest up after a long day and I drove home to be with my family. That was when I started to feel tired as I now had some time to wind down, which allowed me to feel how hard I had worked that day in the studio. It was well worth it.
The following morning I had breakfast with Bobby and Minh before he made his way to Tucson International Airport. Then it was time for me to get back to my regular routine while feeling most grateful for this second chance to play with musicians who I have always respected and loved playing with. I am happy to say that I have remained in close contact with the guys as we review the demos and wait for updates from Bobby and when he will get a chance to overdub his parts. As I write this blog he is just about settled on where he is going to record his parts and is already preparing his gear to give him all of the sounds he needs to have at his disposal. I can't wait to hear what he comes up with because I know it's going to be amazing.
So until I have more to share...thanks from the Blue Note Ritual.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
This was something I tried to avoid doing because I thought it would be really hard to narrow the list down to ten songs. Then I was driving home one day when one of these songs came on the radio so I knew it was time to at least give it a try. Once I made that decision I found myself being pulled to the songs that really impacted me as a drummer so here is my list of songs that had the biggest impact on me as a drummer:
1) "Elvis is Dead" by Living Colour
When I was in college I was talking with a friend about some popular bands and that was when Living Colour came up. I mentioned that I liked the songs that I heard on the radio and on MTV but had yet to check out their albums. At the time I was a poor college kid so I went to a used record shop and picked up their first two albums on cassette for $3.00 each. My life as a drummer would never be the same.
To this day I believe that their second album Time's Up is one of the greatest Rock and Roll albums of all time due to the quality of songs as well as the diversity of influences that gave each song its own identity. Aside from that I was always amazed how this diverse collection of songs still seemed to work in terms of giving the album its own unique identity. Still, there was a particular song on that album that really blew my mind and it was "Elvis is Dead." It's a fun song with a great groove that grabbed me in the most unique way. At this time in my life I was a rocker with a huge drum set but once I heard drummer Will Cahoun lay down that powerful and soul filled groove it just took my breath away. Soon I would redefine my playing from using a smaller set up to seeking the path of the grove in a way that I never expected: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nvpRkn_R5g
2) "From Within (from Calle 54)" by Michel Camilo
Many years ago I read an interview in Modern Drummer Magazine about Cuban drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez before ever hearing him play a note. Once I got an idea of what he was like as a player I immediately sought out any song he performed on. I was totally intrigued by the way he played Latin music but was very inspired by his drum set, which featured lots of Latin percussion, including a foot mounted cowbell.
The first time I heard this brilliant song I was completely blown away. How does a drummer play like this? How does a human being perform all of these rhythms and do it with such a great feel? Obviously Hernandez is a master of his craft and it is fair to say that there is not a drummer on the planet that comes to close to playing the way he does. To this day his playing has had the biggest influence on my solo drumming act because no one orchestrates rhythms around the drum set like "El Negro:" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXy5I52FVCA
3) "Un Poco Loco" by Tito Puente
Growing up in my father's house one would hear Maestro Puente almost daily. There are so many songs I can boast about but this one in particular has always caught my attention because it's not only a great song with a great groove but is completely driven by the percussion section. Further, the percussion section goes beyond just playing traditional Latin rhythms as they also play some creative percussion arrangements that are not common in any type of music.
The musicianship in Puente's groups were always second to none but this song just cooks. The non-percussionists are at their usual stellar best but the percussion section refuses to let up throughout the entire song. I always put this song on when I need a kick and it never fails to get me moving: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRDvkcJcIw8
4) "About Time" by The Estrada Brothers Band
Sometimes world class musicians are not necessarily known on a global scale and to me that is just a crime because their brilliance deserves more recognition. The first time I heard Ruben "Cougar" Estrada's performance on this track I almost crashed my car because I heard it on the radio while I was out delivering pizzas. Immediately I went out and bought the CD and am still amazed at Cougar's performance on this song.
I had never heard a drummer on the set drive a Latin band like this before and to me it was such a defining moment in music history because it proclaimed to the world that a great Latin band could do its thing without the traditional percussion set up. There is something so beautiful and brilliant with the way Cougar plays the cymbals, which in turn gives the vibes the room it needs to sing. Cougar's solos are both tasteful and powerful within the context of the song because the song never loses its groove: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c891rOf62p0
5) "Diansa" by Mamady Keita
The first time I heard this track I didn't know drums could sound so beautiful while also having a powerful presence. For years I have believed that old world drums that are made of hollowed out trees with goat skin were far superior in sound to drums made by today's modern drum makers. As far as I'm concerned this song confirmed my opinion.
Then you hear these drums in the possession of master drummers like Keita along with his ensemble and you have a masterful performance that takes you into another universe. Being a Westerner I am totally privileged because this journey could only happen if I take the time to listen to the master drummers of Africa because they come from a totally different world when it comes to rhythm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1Iw2pZ2Lt8
6) "Don't You Forget About Me by Simple Minds
Fact: the drummer is the most important member of the group and this song is one of many that proves it. Here we have a cool 80's song with nice pop sensibilities and a great vocal performance but what would it be without Mel Gaynor's amazing groove? The groove is solid and pushes the song forward with a feel that actually allows the song not to sound as simple as it is. Meanwhile, Gaynor's hi-hat work is slick and sweet and adds a great dimension to a song that many people probably would have programmed back in the day. Again, more evidence that a human drummer with a nice groove will always take your song to the next level: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdqoNKCCt7A
7) "P. Y. T. (Pretty Young Thing) by Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson's death was such a loss to the music world but at least we have so many great recordings that he left behind. My personal favorites are the ones that featured drummer Ndugu Chancler. This particular song as well as "Billie Jean" are the most famous tracks that he played on thanks to Chancler's special groove. What's amazing about this song is that it's so simple yet how many drummers could actually lay down a groove like this guy? It's a very special and timeless performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5B0itw6rmmI
8) "Touissaint L'Overture (Live in Mexico)" by Santana
Another staple in my family's home during my upbringing was Carlos Santana and other Chicano rockers. My favorite songs were always the ones where they just let it go. This tune has very little vocals but it's all about the groove along with some serious guitar work by El Maestro himself.
Big kudos to drummer Walfredo Reyes, Jr., Congeuro Raul Rekow and Timbalero Karl Perrazo. Aside from the amazing groove that is all over the song there is also some amazing soloing that just takes my breath away. To me this is the most epic song Santana ever delivered and it's thanks to the drumming that takes this song to such a special place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDJ0TclGEn4
9) "I Still Love You" by KISS
This is song is yet another example of the importance of having a great drummer. Here we have a power ballad that has the late Eric Carr playing a tasteful groove in support of the verses before delivering some powerful fills on the choruses that not only fill in the gaps but to also support the agony expressed in the vocal performance.
Another thing to mention is the musicality of Carr's fills. This comes from the fact that Carr was also an instrumentalist who understood the language of harmonic instruments and once drummers dare to explore that world it changes their drumming forever. To further emphasize the point of the complete musician that Carr was it must be stated that he also played the bass guitar on this particular recording. Therefore, Eric Carr was not only the drummer but the complete rhythms section on this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvEKyeVu1ks
10) "Powerslave" by Iron Maiden
What happens when a metal drummer with experience playing other styles of music joins a super metal group? You get a classic track like this one and many more. I have played this song for friends of mine who like hip hop and R & B and they never fail to comment on the groove because this metal song actually has a lot of soul. Nicko McBrain is the man to produce such brilliance and there is not a drummer on this planet that can duplicate his performance.
Aside from the great groove that is throughout the song McBrain also handles the dynamics of the middle section with great musicianship as he helps take the song to a special place. This is one of the most famous songs in the catalog of the Mighty Maiden because it rocks, it has great musicianship and it takes the listener on a journey that they are accustomed to hearing from the greatest heavy metal band in history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzrfJsIQNrg
Thursday, May 12, 2016
One night was most special because Mr. Rizo came on the air and said that he had just come across a new CD that really amazed him and that he didn't want to say anything further because he wanted to play the title track without any delay. It was from a group from Santa Barbara, CA called The Estrada Brothers and the name of the track was "About Time." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c891rOf62p0
Once I heard the opening groove I could feel my eyebrows go up as I hadn't heard someone lay it down like that in a long time. It didn't take long for me to take notice to the fact that while they did have some Latin percussion in the song that the group was actually driven by a guy on the drum set, which was the preferred rhythmic language that I talked. Later in the song this drummer took a solo that almost caused me to crash because I was cheering loudly while driving to my next delivery.
That was definitely one of those moments when a drummer wowed me, to say the least.
Soon after that night I had a birthday and it was around that time in my life when I would just go out and buy myself a present rather than wait to see what other people would get for me. Immediately I was at my local Tower Records and went straight to the jazz section in order to find this now coveted CD that I wanted. And there it was!
First off, the CD is amazing in its totality. Many artists claim that they despise the fact that people can download songs now because it robs them of the opportunity to make the money they would normally make back when people had to buy the entire album. While I do sympathize with such an idea I also don't blame the consumer for purchasing only what they want because frankly, many CD's aren't worth buying because there are too many filler songs. Sadly, I notice this to be the case most of the time in the jazz genre so I was ecstatic when I found out that my purchase of this CD was in fact worth every dime I spent that day, which in itself wasn't easy because that's when I was on a poor college student's budget.
The best way to describe Cougar's drumming is that he is a brilliant painter while also having a thunderous groove. He is a brilliant painter because he has a beautiful way of playing the traditional Latin rhythms with his cymbals, which in itself provides a light texture that doesn't overpower the vibes, which acts in most cases as the lead instrument. His thunderous groove is in the fact that when he has to push because he really kicks the band hard. But his groove also has a ton of soul to it so it really makes you want to move. He is also great and setting moods to the music such as the circular feeling he gives the listener when he plays through the 12/8 section of "Two Friends."
Mr. Ray: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9TDhy0Kf44
Two Friends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ6LVqirDrI
Delia Bonita: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jTiLgaPiQI
Joe's Songo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kgNlC8CZWk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atezyieK6ZU. He also continues his beautiful coloring of the drum set on tracks like "Blue Bossa." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKc6pXiNZk0. This CD doesn't feature as much of his thunderous groove but it really shows his musicality in ways that wasn't seen on About Time, which is a music lesson in itself.
Aside from performing with The Estrada Brothers Cougar also performs with Los Lobos and his own musical projects. To this day he is one of the most musical drummers I have ever heard because he really knows how to play a song. Too often we only hear about song drummers when it comes to pop music as if pop songs were the only true songs that are written. That is just not true because it takes great talent to write a good song in any genre. The Estrada Brothers do a great job not only with their great original material but also with their arrangements of popular favorites as they offer renditions of these songs are in most cases very refreshing. None of this could be done without the brilliance of Ruben "Cougar" Estrada.