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Rhythm In Every Guise

Alan Dawson with Booker Ervin

By Published: July 21, 2004
Throughout Ervin's solo on the standard "Just Friends" (Booker Ervin, The Song Book , Prestige), Dawson finds ingenious ways to buttress the tenor saxophonist's mercurial changes in direction. At the onset of a remarkable eight bar segment, he matches Ervin's rapid-fire lines by integrating single hits to the bass drum into pieces of eighth-note triplets on the snare; for all of its precision, this combination produces a clattering, agitated sound. Anticipating Ervin's descent, each of the drummer's two strokes immediately precede a blues-drenched honk, giving the impression that the two musicians are playing in unison. Then while Ervin pauses after a neat nine-note phrase, Dawson jumps right in, continuing where his partner left off by striking the partially closed hi-hat cymbal several times over the course of seven beats. With each stroke the cymbal's hiss gets longer and more pronounced. On the eighth beat, he climaxes by means of a thunderous fill between the snare and low tom-tom.

In contrast to his persistent goading (busy comping, acrobatic fills) of Ervin, Dawson is restrained throughout pianist Tommy Flanagan's two choruses on "Our Love Is Here To Stay" (Booker Ervin, The Song Book , Prestige); nonetheless, he finds subtle ways to influence the music. Consistently staying at a low dynamic level so that Davis' bass can clearly be heard, Dawson keeps the snare and bass combinations to a minimum. The steady pulse of the ride cymbal and light snap of the hi-hat pedal on beats 2 and 4 are executed in equal measure. As a result the trio swings in a settled, even-tempered manner. On the 11th bar of Flanagan's first chorus, Dawson begins a brief series of light cymbal crashes, falling both off and on the beat, each crash ringing until the next one hits, and he ends the phrase with two rapid bass drum thumps. It's nothing spectacular, just a little spice that doesn't detract from Flanagan. The same applies to some very reserved footwork and sticking to the hi-hat at the end of the same chorus. The pedal is pressed off of the pulse, making a clipped crack, and a hissing stroke to one of the partially opened cymbals follows. Repeated a half dozen times, rhythmically speaking the pattern bears a strong resemblance to the earlier cymbal crashes; and though barely audible, the music wouldn't quite be the same without it.

Dawson's drumming on the head of the leader's up-tempo blues "Grant's Stand" (Booker Ervin, The Freedom Book , Prestige) is one of his most thrilling performances in the Ervin discography. Once again the manner in which he contrasts high and low pitched sounds is very effective, as is his changes in dynamics and the ability to gauge the weight and relative impact of each drum and cymbal. Dawson accompanies pianist Jaki Byard's introduction with only a stick to the hi-hat cymbal, his swinging, irregular rhythms matching the pianist's right hand. Then in the space of a couple of beats the music goes from blithesome to insistent. Ervin enters and everything explodes, in part because Dawson smacks the bass drum in unison with the tenor saxophonist's shouting two-note riff. Jammed into the space of one bar, the riff falls between the first and second beats then squarely on beat three; aside from one variation, it is the tune. Into the tiniest of openings after each repetition, Dawson nimbly inserts a variety of brief fills on the snare, toms, and cymbals that rebel against the solidity of the bass drum. Ranging from single to multiple strokes, some of them demand attention, others speak softly.

Selected Discography

Booker Ervin, The Song Book (Prestige)

Booker Ervin, The Freedom Book (Prestige)

Booker Ervin, The Space Book (Prestige)

Booker Ervin, Heavy!!! (Prestige)

Booker Ervin, Groovin' High (Prestige)

Booker Ervin, The Blues Book (Prestige)

Booker Ervin, Setting The Pace (Prestige)

Booker Ervin, The Trance (Prestige)

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