156

Milford Graves: Percussion Ensemble

Lyn Horton By

Sign in to view read count
Milford Graves: Percussion Ensemble Fulfilling Bernard Stollman's prescient request to record for his label, Milford Graves decided to enlist Sunny Morgan as a drumming partner for Percussion Ensemble. Graves did so purposefully; the duo percussionists were making more than music. They were calling up their heritage at a time when Black Americans were teetering on the fulcrum of American cultural consciousness.

The music defies stereotyping. It is not concerned with keeping time or playing riffs. Rather, the two players are just talking in "drum" using their hands as mouthpieces. The continuation of their movement not only exhales a tonal diversity, which unfolds unpredictably and without precedence, but also evolves without destination. There is no place to go except where the music takes them.

Although Graves and Morgan had, within their reach, instruments that fall within the category of percussion, the richness of the vocabulary applied to them pushes the sound beyond the realm of expectation. Because every percussive phrase or succession of phrases is essentially complete, the twosome breaks patterns before even establishing them, rendering the music more immediate than time itself. This is not to say that the phraseology implies isolation of musical events, rather that one event follows another with a logic that can only be activated when the mechanism for choice is totally innate.

Graves widens the vast expanses of the abstract soundscape with the rapidity of his hand movements on the drums, periodically complementing the sonic tautness of the skins with the reverberations of a gong or two ("Nothing 5-7"). Morgan carries the thread of Graves' largesse with a process that is often indistinguishable from it ("Nothing 11-10"). The bells and shakers are a means to break the steadiness of the drumming, to relieve the intensity that grows out of it ("Nothing 13"). It is not until the final, lengthiest "Nothing" that a story seems to ensue. A detailed, insistent expression of agitation starts on the metal edges of the drums, progresses to the skins, a tambourine, and the guiro and gradually develops into a robust pounding of the drums. The luminescent explosiveness from the gongs intervenes sporadically, which sound provides contrast to that of the drumming. The recording ends with a strange instrumental thud.

That the entire album is phases of Graves' piece entitled "Nothing" speaks more loudly that its title implies. The message harkens to the birth of the drum, intended, in part, for communicating over distances and as a powerful healing tool. So 'nothing' does in fact become 'something' to transmit the tenderness and seriousness of the battle cry for racial equality in a civilized world.

The year before Graves recorded this album in 1966, Whitney Balliett attended a concert where Graves played in a large ensemble. In his review, in which he described the group's collective improvisation as "self-indulgently long," he also wrote that he only "suspected" that Graves "would become the modern counterpart of such pioneering drummers as...Max Roach." Little did he know that Graves would be the musician most recorded on ESP.


Track Listing: Nothing 5-7; Nothing 11-10; Nothing 19; Nothing 13; Nothing.

Personnel: Milford Graves: drums, bells, gongs, shakers; Sunny Morgan: drums, bells.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ESP Disk | Style: Modern Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read June CD/LP/Track Review June
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 22, 2017
Read The Invariant CD/LP/Track Review The Invariant
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 22, 2017
Read Akua's Dance CD/LP/Track Review Akua's Dance
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 21, 2017
Read Daylight Ghosts CD/LP/Track Review Daylight Ghosts
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "Forest Grove" CD/LP/Track Review Forest Grove
by Dave Wayne
Published: March 26, 2016
Read "Some Morning" CD/LP/Track Review Some Morning
by Dr. Judith Schlesinger
Published: March 2, 2016
Read "One For Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland" CD/LP/Track Review One For Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 5, 2016
Read "All Things" CD/LP/Track Review All Things
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 26, 2016
Read "Two Steps from the Blues" CD/LP/Track Review Two Steps from the Blues
by Geno Thackara
Published: May 18, 2016
Read "Eleven Promises" CD/LP/Track Review Eleven Promises
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: July 30, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!