Gerald Cleaver's Griots confirms just how far creative musicians have developed since the appearance of drum machines, music workstations and software modular synthesizers. A drummer by trade, Cleaver can be heard in innumerable ensembles including those of Ivo Perelman, Chris Lightcap, Steve Swell and Tomasz Stanko, to name just a few. His craft has blossomed beyond the drum chair, leading his own ensembles and a recent dive into electronics. He previously released the all-electric Signs (577 Records, 2020) which was remixed Signs Remixed (Positive Elevation, 2021) by hip hop producer Hprizm of the band Anti-Pop Consortium.
We can note the evolution of Cleaver and electronics by situating fellow drummer Jack DeJohnette's foray into synthesizers with his 1989 release Zebra (MCA Records). Where Zebra sounds as stilted and archaic as the video game Pong, Griots delivers a mind meld of man and machine. Cleaver manipulates his electronics as opposed to being manipulated by them. The music gives the impression that it is an extension of Cleaver's work on Farmers By Nature with Craig Taborn and William Parker. While that trio is a freely improvised franchise and Griots is one man's experiments in layering sound, there is dynamism and unexpected spontaneity to this music. Where much electronic music lacks vitality, this exudes it. Let's call it Cleaver's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The multiple percussive attack of "Cooper-Moore" is contrasted by the spacey and spaciousness of "Bond." Cleaver programmed this music to flow without impediments; the glitchy sounds of "Tribe" match with the bells and pulsed chimes of "Remembrances (for Mom)." Joe Zawinul would be jealous of the discoveries Cleaver makes with the marching "Victor Lewis" and also the brightness of "Geri Allen." Even though "Galaxy Faruq (for Faruq Z. Bey)" conjures the music of Kraftwerk, Cleaver is making music, as opposed to capturing algorithms on tape. While this is a solo outing, the two collaborations with samples from David Virelles and Ambrose Akinmusire stand out as highlights and maybe that is because listeners consider Gerald Cleaver a social animal of the highest order.
Cooper-Moore; Bond; Virelles (featuring David Virelles); Remembrances (for Mom); Tribe; Victor
Lewis; Geri Allen; Galaxy Faruq (for Faruq Z. Bey); William Parker; Akinmusire (featuring Ambrose
Akinmusire); Buena Vista.