There is a sense within jazz and creative music that drums and percussion are currently experiencing the greatest instrumental innovations. Following pioneers like Max Roach and Ed Blackwell, drummers are expanding beyond mere timekeeping and exploring their melodic and expressive capabilities. Since 1996, Billy Martin has used his time away from MMW to extend the percussive arts, releasing some 20 CDs on his Amulet Records: solo, duo and ambient percussion music; turntable beats; and remix projects. Three recent releases illustrate the breadth of Martin's vision and the possibilities yet to be realized with these oldest of instruments.
On Solo Live Tonic 2002, Martin embraces the challenging exposed vulnerability of a lone percussion recital. His set is diverse with modulating dynamics and textures that avoid bombastic displays, the technique always serving the music. "Six Grandfathers from his suite for the Native American visionary Black Elk illustrates Martin's storytelling - it builds slowly, alternating from subtle atmospherics to explosive punctuations. He varies the timbre with agogo bells on "Coconuts Feeding Birds and mbira (thumb piano) on "Flora Aura , more clearly articulating his melodic intent. Martin discusses his unorthodox technique of playing congas with thick sticks, revealing its genesis and inspiration, powerfully showcased on "Burundi Drums . The sinewy "Favela features Martin's transposed clave patterns for drum set, adding richness to his wealth of grooves.
The rhythmic complexity intensifies with the addition of drummer-percussionist G. Calvin Weston on Live at Houston Hall. Their long history started as a partnership in The Lounge Lizards and their first duets were the impetus for Amulet. The two have developed considerable empathy - playing intertwined rhythms or in rapid conversational call and response. Both are amply displayed on "Overture , with a provocative exchange from Weston's blazing double-bass break prompting Martin's reply of frenzied fills. The program segues as the musicians move between instruments, altering the tonal palette and dynamic flow. Weston even adds trumpet bleating to "Agoxixi (part 2) , eliciting some of Martin's most agressively fleet drumming. Their enjoyment is obvious: Weston's shouted exhortations spur the energy, particularly in the muscular climax of "New Moon .
The duo drives January 14 & 15 by Billy Martin and Socket, the percussive density accentuated with the contributions of the great Cyro Baptista and Eddie Bobe. The CD was culled from two nights of performances at Tonic with luminary improvisers like multi-instrumentalists Eyvind Kang and Shahzad Ismaily, vocalist Shelly Hirsch and pipaist Min Xiao Fen joining the battery. It's fully integrated group improvisation, the percussionists pushing ideas as well as responding to and coloring what is offered. On "Purification of Wounds , Kang's violin floats with longer, atmospheric lines countering the frenetic percussive foundation. Hirsch's wordless incantations mimic and complement the established groove of "Transfigured Shelley , as trumpet blasts are used percussively, like cymbals, to accent the hits. It's often hard to distinguish who plays what sound: partly from the distortion-laden instruments and recording quality and partly because individual statements are made in pursuit of the collective - from subtle swaying to a swirling cauldron of sounds.
Tracks and Personnel
Solo Live at Tonic 2002
Tracks: Bouquet; Max Moon; Winding Road to Tree House; Six Grandfathers; Some words about Black Elk; Coconuts Feeding Birds; Flora Aura; The Daybreak Star Herb of Understanding; Favela; Duck Pond; Some words about Burundi; Burundi Drums; Talking Drum; Finale (part 1); Finale (part 2); Finale (part 3).
Personnel: Billy Martin: drums, percussion, whistles/birdcalls.
Live at Houston Hall
Tracks: Overture; Top-side City; Talking Drums; Agoxixi (part 1); Agoxixi (part 2); New Moon; Tree Tops; Sahara.
Personnel: Grant Calvin Weston: drums, percussion, trumpet; Billy Martin: drums, percussion.
January 14 & 15 2005
Tracks: Purification Of Wounds; Purification Of Wounds (part 2); Magic Baths; Transfigured Shelley; Black Lamp; The Dream Answers.
Personnel: Shelley Hirsch: voice; Eyvind Kang: violin, bass, guitar, trumpet; Shahzad Ismaily: bass, guitar, banjo, drums, percussion, melodica; Min Xiao Fen: pipa, voice; Cyro Baptista: percussion, voice; Grant Calvin Weston: drums, percussion, trumpet; Billy Martin: drums, percussion; Eddie Bobè: congas; Brian Marsella: melodica.