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Ben Scholz

Within the creative music world at large, trombone-led projects tend to occupy a niche within a niche.  By far the least common among the three typical “jazz” horn types, ‘bone"players are forced to contend with an mid to low range instrument that does not tune easily and is usually cast in a supporting role within the band.  It comes as no surprise that the list of well known projects by jazz trombone soloists/leaders is short, at least in comparison to the plethora of saxophone and trumpet innovators.  However, many landmark recordings such as Carl Fontana’s “The Great Fontana”, JJ Johnson’s “Spirit of the Horn”, and Frank Rosolino’s “Fond Memories” represent a huge part of our jazz heritage’s foundation.

On his debut recording “Green Ruins”, trombonist Luke Malewicz presents a collection of original compositions with a somewhat unconventional lineup including Rich Moore on tenor saxophone, Andrew Toombs on piano, Tim Seisser on electric bass, and Makaya McCraven on drums.  Born in Nowa Sol, Poland, Malewicz immigrated to the United States when he was 20 years old.  After graduating from Manhattan School of Music, Luke settled in Chicago and began a busy career performing both stateside and in Europe.  

The opening track “Basso Blue” makes no bones (no pun intended) about the fact that this is a trombone led project with its low, rhythmic ostinato featuring Malewicz and Moore.  The tune then leads into a fairly straight forward 15 bar jazz samba solo section with an interesting breakdown before the head out.  “Heathers” features a trombone melody coupled with a delicate chord structure and piano solo by Toombs.  Again, the overall rhythmic feel of this tune is a jazz samba, though McCraven does an excellent job of differentiating between these first two tracks.  

The “Sliv” opens with a quick 12/4 pattern that transitions into a floaty ECM feel on the bridge transitioning into a trombone solo.  The opening pattern is extremely catchy, and could have warranted an entire tune on its own.  Moore plays an angular solo over the groove before the band heads out with the mellower transition.  “Rooftops” is a groove ballad that begins with a piano cadence by Toombs before continuing into Joshua Redman sounding tenor sax melody.  Seisser performs his first solo of the album accompanied by McCraven; notably playing with sticks in lieu of brushes for the entire piece. Malewicz continues the solo lineup before performing a lush duet melody during the headout.


The title track “Green Ruins” was inspired by “Buildings ravaged and overgrown by time.  Crumbled bricks.  Climbing vines.  These are the green ruins of my past.”.  In the liner notes of the album, Malewicz pays tribute to his mentors Tim Coffman and Luis Bonilla, as well as family and friends.  The inspiration for the final track “My Fair Waltz” reads - “This song is written for my family.  I could not have come this far without you.”  Both songs reflect a strong introspective personality and this sense of vision radiates throughout the entire album.  

Article by Ben Scholz  Originally published 11/1/14 in Allaboutjazz.com

A few months ago, in the article "School Band Percussion 101" we discussed ideas for newbie drummers looking to purchase their first instrument.  As we approach the holiday season, the opportunity to augment your drummer’s arsenal of percussion tools is a great way to encourage them to practice during those cold winter months.

There are a lot of great options out there, and narrowing down the list can be daunting.  Take a look at this guide for some suggestions on what to get to spread the holiday vibes.

Stick Bag

If your beginning drummer has a habit of leaving sticks all over the practice room floor, what better gift than a drum stick bag?  This handy case is a percussion implement essential and most models easily hold a dozen pairs of sticks, mallets, brushes etc.  We recommend the Zildjian T3255 Nylon Drumstick as an entry level option.  For drummers looking for a larger “toolbox” check out the Ludwig Lx31 Atlas Pro, complete with shoulder strap and side pocket.

Tune Bot

Help your percussionist learn the art of drum tuning with this helpful digital device.  Developed by Overtone labs, the tune-bot was modeled after digital guitar headstock tuning devices.  Features such as pitch measurement, overtone filters, and save slots allow drummers to find optimal pitch ranges and save preferred tunings.

Moongel

When all those overtones are slowing your drummer’s roll, give them the most popular dampening device available. Moongel is a self-adhesive, washable non-toxic gel that sticks to the surface of drum heads, cymbals and most percussion instruments.  Cheap and effective, a tub of Moongel is an essential tool in any drummer's stick bag.

Drum Key

Easily the most crucial component in any drummer’s rig, a quality drum key can save both time and fingertips when it comes to tuning and setting up.  For drummers looking for a multi-tool we recommend the Evans DATK Torque Drum Key.  Complete with an ergonomic grip for maximum comfort, a knurled knob for quick spinning, and a slip-resistant magnetic head, the torque drum key makes the job easy.  The torque drum key’s handle can also be set to a desired tension to help attain more accurate tuning.

Metronome

Though we discussed the topic of metronomes in our last article, it bears mentioning a second time, that a quality time keeper is perhaps the most important tool for any musician.  A simple device such as the Korg MA-30 will help keep the beat, while the Boss DB-60 offers a full range of rhythm patterns, looping functions and tuning options.  For a more classic feel, the Wittner 803M Wood-Case Metronome is a great addition to any practice room or recital hall.

Article by Ben Scholz  Originally published 11/14/14 in Reverb.com

 Chicago based drummer/percussionist/composer Juan Pastor's latest release Chinchano represents a successful fusion of traditional latin rhythms, and modern jazz sensibilities. Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Pastor made his way to Chicago after studying at DePaul University. Featuring equal amounts of cajon, drum set, and other percussion items, Chinchano briskly covers a range of latin inspired patterns including Afro 6/8, Lando, Waltz, Festejo and Cumbia. The opening track "Fina Estampa" features a cajon intro and some excellent traded solos by Marquis Hill and Richard Moore. "Chakana" features some interesting sus chord harmony by Stuart Mindeman and a solo by bassist Jorge Roeder.

Pastor experiments with a more "ECM" floating feel on the tune "En Otro Talvez," while "Negra Presuntuosa" features a Lando pattern in 6 and gives way to a more traditional modern jazz feel at the end of the track. "Lucia" is reminiscent of a Steps Ahead style ballad and Keyboardist/Producer Paul Mutzabaugh lends a beautiful Hammond B3 harmony to the mix.

While this album prominently features polyrhythms in groupings of six, surprisingly few of the patterns actually fall into the well known "Afro-Cuban 6/8" style. With the exception of a clave here and there, most of the actual patterns are set by the cajon and do not feature any sort of lead voice from a bell or cascara sound. "Tiene Picante" comes as close to a traditional "Afro-Cuban 6/8" pattern as any track on the album, though the feel is fluid and dynamic, especially during the drum solo.

One of the more unique tracks on this album, "Avellana" experiments with a Coltrane-ish free jazz vibe before the chord changes set up the melody. Obviously a nod to keyboardist Stuart Mindeman, "Amigo Stu" prominently features a bass/piano left hand unison riff and the combination of muted trumpet and clarinet provides an interesting texture in the melody. The final track "Andino" works in a bass and cajon dialog interspersed with melodies and solos by both Pastor and Roeder.

Long dominated by Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Brazilian artists such as Gonzalo Rubalcaba, David Sanchez, and Eliane Elias, the Modern Latin Jazz genre has now been graced with a new element in its sonic palate. Juan Pastor's "Chinchano" proves that traditional Peruvian music has found its place among the styles of jazz that define the artform.

Article by Ben Scholz  Originally published 10/3/14 in Allaboutjazz.com

Kid - “I wanna join band.”

Parent - “That’s wonderful!  What instrument do you want to play?”

Kid - “The drums!”

Parent - (Radio silence)

Parents, if this conversation sounds familiar you may be suffering from a case of “percussive misinformativ-itis”.  However, you should have no reason to fear.  Far from a chronic headache of blast-beats and drum rolls, band percussion can be a literal symphony of sounds and textures.  A burgeoning percussion student will soon discover that the decision to “play the drums” in school means learning all the note-reading skills of his/her peers as well as developing proficiency on a half-dozen unique instruments.  Oftentimes however, this instrument choice can quickly become overwhelming as parents feel the pressure to decide what gear to buy.  

The most obvious first instrument choice for a new percussion student is a snare drum.  Beginning lessons will focus on stick technique and rudiments, so a snare kit with a stand, case and sticks is an essential piece of gear.  We recommend the Ludwig LE2477RBR drum kit with rolling bag as a first purchase for your new drummer.

Within any music program, a multitude of options exist for new instrumentalists looking to explore the percussive arts.  Concert band and orchestra will usually require an entrance audition, and ensembles such as marching band and jazz band may or may not be extra-curricular.  As I’ve written before, the process of choosing correct sticks depends on what type of music your student will be performing.  Band and orchestra will require specific sticks, as well as mallets for timpani and xylophone.  We recommend the Vic Firth SD1 General, the Vic Firth T1 Timpani Mallets, and the Mike Balter “Band Director’s Special” pre-pack.

If your student gravitates towards drumset, jazz band may be an appropriate choice.  Most programs require students to audition for a concert band spot, and jazz band class may not be included as part of the curricular program.  While drumset may be the obvious choice for jazz oriented percussionists, vibraphone is also an option and the request to “play vibes” will definitely perk up any director’s ears.  For drumset, we recommend the Vic Firth VF 7A Wood Tip drumsticks and the Regal Tip Classic Telescoping Brushes.  The Gretsch Catalina Club Kit is also an inexpensive standard drum set for students looking for a be-bop trap set.  For vibraphone, we recommend the Mike Balter Pro Vibe 23 Mallets with rattan handles.  

Drumline and marching band go hand-in-hand with football season, and this activity requires a special set of implements.  Most, if not all, programs provide drums, and depending on the assigned spot, it is a good idea to purchase a personal set of sticks or mallets.  For percussionists in the drum line, we recommend the Vic Firth Ralph Hardimon SRH Marching Snare Drumstick, the Vic Firth Corpsmaster Multi Tenor Stick or the Vic Firth Corpsmaster Marching Bass Drum Mallet.  Side note - if your student is playing marching bass drum in the line, be sure to purchase the correct mallet that corresponds to the size of his/her drum.  If your percussionist is performing in the front-ensemble (pit), we recommend the Mike Balter Chorale Series Birch Handle Marimba Mallets and the Vic Firth T3 Staccato Timpani Mallets.  Again, the Mike Balter “Band Director’s Special” pre-pack is a good investment as your student will likely perform on more than one instrument if he/she is placed in the front-ensemble.  

It is important to note that this guide is intended for percussionists who are entering their school music programs without much if any prior experience.  As your student progresses, choices will be made regarding instrument specialties and style preferences.  Mallet/keyboard instruments such as marimbas and vibraphones can cost thousands of dollars and tend to take up a large foot-print of space in a house or apartment.  Timpani can be even more expensive, and transportation alone requires a large van or truck.  Even a drum set can be a financial and spatial investment.  While no student should be discouraged from pursuing a specialized percussion instrument due to cost or space concerns, most band programs provide access to these instruments during school hours.  Every attempt to take advantage of school-owned equipment should be made before a student commits to purchasing his/her instrument.  

On a final note, I would like to mention the fact that a percussionist’s best friend is his/her metronome.  No setup is complete without a quality time-keeper and most brands can be adapted to project through headphones or an amplifier in high-volume situations.  We recommend the Boss DB-60 Dr. Beat Metronome for general applications.  Drum set musicians will also appreciate the Vic Firth SIH1 Isolation Headphones.  These headphones feature an internal metronome as well as volume control, and a line-in for playback and monitor mixes.  

Well, there you have it.  We hope that this guide provides you with the tools to properly equip your budding percussionist.  Remember, there is no substitute for a good teacher, and music education can provide a young person a lifetime of opportunity and enjoyment in the arts.

Article by Ben Scholz   Originally published 9/10/14 in Reverb.com

Over the past ten years, electronic music and jazz have developed a curious relationship.  As programmers and DJs sought to remove the human element from their beats and loops, acoustic musicians sought to apply the tight, complex patterns of house and trance music to their traditional instruments.  Drummer Mark Guiliana is at the forefront of this new vanguard of progressive acoustic artists.  In this article we’ll discuss his work with acclaimed pianist Brad Mehldau, his studies with renowned instructor John Riley, and his new record label “Beat Music Productions”.

BPS:  I have to admit that I wasn’t too familiar with your work until I saw you play with Brad Mehldau at S.P.A.C.E. last year.  The whole “Brooklyn Duo” idea seems to be popular among indie rock artists and hip hop outfits, but has been slow to catch on in the world of jazz.  Why do you feel jazz artists are reluctant to embrace duo collaborations, especially amongst rhythm section instrumentalists?

MG:  There are definitely fewer examples among rhythm section instrumentalists, and there are a few dual situations amongst lead instrumentalists that I’ve enjoyed over time.  However, when one of the two elements happens to be drums, by definition the other element is responsible for the  harmony and melody.  Our situation is an electronic configuration that allows Brad to be the bass player, the accompanist, and the soloist at the same time. So, obviously he’s carrying a lot of weight.  The technology allows him to do so in a way that we’re used to hearing from a larger ensemble, and that’s the reason it works in our situation. I don’t really have to change the way I play except in very subtle ways. I’ll fill more space at times or become aware of the space that’s available.  Often times, there will be more space because there’s just two  of us. But really I’m just playing the way I hear the music.

For him it’s a much bigger leap into new territory.  I think it goes without saying that he’s an incredible musician, and he brings his language to that electronic template.  It’s pretty exciting. For me it’s funny, because sometimes I’ll find myself with my eyes closed on stage just being in the moment.  I’ll hear Brad introduce this new voice as we’re playing and I’ll open my eyes and say, “Where’s this coming from?”  There’s already a bass line, maybe some harmony happening, and there’s a solo, and somehow he’s using one of those voices as well as space to create another texture. It’s pretty cool.

BPS: Was the Mehliana collaboration between you and Brad mutual, or did one of you enlist the other to realize a personal artistic goal?

MG:  It was mutual. Technically it’s a world that I’ve been living in a little longer than Brad.  My world has been electronic instruments as well as live band over the past decade, really a lot of electronic influences, while Brad’s output has been mostly acoustic. We met years back, I don’t remember exactly when, but we bumped into each other on the road, became friendly and talked casually about playing together. He came to see an earlier version of my band play in New York one night, and after that we decided to form the duo.  It made more sense to go the electronic direction so that we could meet in the middle, between our influences. He had done playing like this before—I later found out that in High School he had done some duo work with a Mini-Moog bass and drummer.  So, he had this organic sound inside his brain, but had never really explored it since.

The template was also informed by the fact that if Brad were to play bass lines on piano, these lines would be less effective in creating a larger ensemble of sound.  We more or less agreed on the instrumentation, and the sonic template and from there it became a balance of playing, interacting and learning about each other musically.

BPS: John Riley was the subject of my first article for the Drummer to Drummer column and I know you studied with him at William Patterson University. Can you relate to me a particularly
memorable lesson or educational experience that you had with him?

MG: It would be difficult for me to point out one moment, the reason being that all of the moments were incredible. I grew up in New Jersey and he lives upstate in New York, and I began studying with him when I was a senior in High School. I would drive up to his house once a month and take a lesson. After graduating, I continued studying with him at William Paterson University for a year.  At that moment in my life I was extremely impressionable, like a sponge.  Really open. I wasn’t exactly sure about where to go artistically, but I was very, very hungry so he was the perfect teacher for me.  He encouraged me to explore and he challenged me as both a musician and a drummer. I really feel like studying under him was my most compressed and extreme progression.

Looking back on it now (I didn’t realize it at the time) those years spent with him were a real burst of improvement in my learning. What I value most (and this is something I try to do every time I sit down to play music), is the ability to incorporate all of these experiences. He would draw from a wide variety of sources to deliver the information.  If we were working on odd meters, or I would have to play a difficult song in one of my ensembles in school, I would pursue a jazz application in a way that was comfortable to me.  However, in our lessons he would incorporate traditional Indian music, tabla etc.  Things like that.

BPS: I understand what you mean. I had a chance to study with him a couple of times when he came down to UNT.  I felt like there was an arc to his lessons. There was space for improvisation within them, but there is a deliberate progression in the way he teaches.

MG: He’s amazing.

BPS: So—I’m going to assume that Jojo Mayer has been a big influence on your playing.  Can you talk about some of your other influences and how they’ve impacted your musical style?

MG: Sure—but I’m just curious, he is an influence of mine, but I’m curious as to what makes you think that....

BPS: The Sabian video mostly.  I’m a big fan of Nerve and that kind of drum and bass acoustic break beat stuff...

MG: Yeah, Jojo’s definitely been an influence.  I’ve been lucky to have him as a friend and we’ve spent a lot of time together.  From time to time I’ll have some technical questions for him. When I’m re-evaluating my technique I’ll run things by him and he always helps me out, but more so in a general more conceptual way. He and Zach Danziger were the first two guys that I saw emulating electronic music or programmed music in a live setting.  

Aside from the details of the playing, the music has been about the concept, the production element, and the approach. It’s an intimidating task to try to emulate some of the programmed music, and seeing these guys pulling it off live in an exciting, musical way really gave me the courage to pursue this road. I still look to them as sources of inspiration, but more importantly, their sources of inspiration. The reason they are so convincing in the way they play their music, is because they’ve really done their homework.  They truly are historians in this field.

This field, albeit with few exceptions, does not feature a drummer performing. It’s almost entirely samples and programming, so it was never my intention to top what JoJo was playing.  If I had done this, I’d already be a generation removed from the source. It’s tricky because it’s cool, really exciting stuff that he’s playing, however it’s much more about trying to interpret the original source material in my own way.  If drummers do this naturally, then we all come out with our own slightly different versions of these emulations. Those guys pointed me to original source material like Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, and Photech.  I really tried to immerse myself in those recordings and tried to find my own way in that music.

Was your question about the other drumming heroes I have, because I could give you that, too.

BPS: Yeah, sure!

MG: A short list would be guys like Chad Smith and Dave Grohl . They were the reason I started playing drums as a teenager, while watching MTV. I still love that music and hold it dear to my heart. Later, I immersed myself in jazz.  So, Tony Williams, Max Roach and Elvin
Jones, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Roy Haynes—the list goes on. I really dove head first into that world. When I was in college and going to check out a lot of music in New York, I got to hear drummers like Jim Black, Jeff Ballard, Joey Barron, Dan White, Dave King, and Bill Stewart. Those were the guys I was checking out all the time. It was really special to see them play and be in the front row at every gig. Each experience was like a lesson. That’s a short list of drumming heroes, and, oh yeah—you’re going to see Steve Gadd mixed in
there as well.

BPS:  I’m not sure how long you’ve been with Sabian or what your relationship is with them. The reason I ask is you seem to prefer kind of a dry, trashy sound in your cymbals.  I was wondering if Sabian was a conscious choice for you and if you could talk about your setup and the sound that you’ve developed.

MG: I’ve been with Sabian since about 2006 and I’m humbled by the relationship I have with them. They’ve been really nice to me, and I had a chance to go through the factory a couple of years ago to work on some stuff.  We have plans for me to go there for another trip later this year.  I’ve also been collaborating with Jo Jo, in order to  promote his cymbals, and it’s been a very productive, inspiring relationship.

I’ve always found the sounds I was looking for with Sabian. I do like dark sounding cymbals for sure, and the achieved the short trashy sounds with different combinations of stacks. They already have some mini hi-hat combinations in the catalog, but I’ve been collaborating with them on some prototype designs as well.  Regarding ride cymbals, I have some thinner versions of the Artisan line that give a slightly darker tone. I play a wide variety of music, and I have WAY more cymbals than I need.  However I’m always changing my
set up from gig to gig.  Night after night I’m trying to evaluate the best combination for that music. I found that all my cymbals do have a place in the music I play, and it’s process of assessing the right combination.  

Sabian has been very generous and open minded, and I feel that attitude is invaluable,  especially with a cymbal company. Drums can be manipulated with head choice or muffling, but cymbals, it’s whatever it is.  You can manipulate a cymbal with a rivet or some tape or something, but you have far fewer options if you want to change the sound once it’s been created.

BPS:  So, for a last question—what’s next? Do you have any plans to record again with Avishai Cohen?  Can you talk a little about Beat Music Productions, any touring plans?

MG: No plans to record with Avishai in the near future. What’s next for me?  I have two of my own albums coming out and I’m starting my own label (Beat Music Productions). These albums will come out in two weeks. I’m playing gigs around them with two different ensembles that both have an electronic influence. I also have an acoustic quartet that I wrote repertoire for, and we’re playing a bunch of gigs in the fall.  I want to record this group by the end of the year, and put the album out the following year.  

Brad and I have been touring consistently, and I have two gigs with Donnie McCaslin and his band coming up as well.  We recorded Donnie’s new record a few months ago, I’m not sure when that will be coming out.  So, I’ll be with Donnie a little bit and with Jason Lindner’s group a little bit as well. I’m doing a workshop series this Fall in New York City, two Saturdays each month, where I’m presenting different topics and including different guests.  So, I’ve got my stuff spread out, but it feels good to be releasing new music while I’m building this new company as well.

Article by Ben Scholz   Originally published in Allaboutjazz.com 8/28/14

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