album review:Thomas Lang & Conrad Schrenk – Yumaflex

BuyThomas Lang & Conrad Schrenk – Yumaflexlisten here.

If you’re going to scour around the internet for some of the top drummers today you’re going to come across Thomas Lang. He’s the ‘Terminator of the drums’ (he’s Austrian).

Being a contrarian when I hear so much about someone and how great they are I want to ignore it and move on to someone else to give them my attention, but really after even just watching his Drumeo video it’s easy to see why so many people gush over him.  His technical prowess is one to be admired and something to aspire to as a drummer.  If you were to take ‘The books’ that drummers and drum teachers would suggest to learn (Stick Control, 4-Way Coordination, etc) and learn to play them like a robot the culmination would be this dude.  He plays so smoothly between both sides/all limbs and he’s clearly just practiced these books. This would make you think he can just sight read and play like the page suggests, with no style but just how the greats before him wrote it.

So how can he play with a group?

Pretty well.  His discography includes a number of musicians he’s played with as a session player. As technically savvy a player as he is you could assume a session would go very smoothly, with a “hey do this” and bam it’s done in a take or 2.  That’s always fun but releases like this are where someone with that broad of an experience can let loose and have fun.

As shown in Yumaflex it’s almost an exercise in the style of all his interests, starting with rock metal, moving over to a Primus/Meshuggah style metal, onto the beach, into the desert, and well, you get it. It almost plays like a demo reel of all the styles Thomas is capable of playing. This release proves that he can groove with the best of them, especially over such a diverse range of genres.

This release will most likely appeal mostly to the drummer, but there is some shredding on the guitar that could appeal to the string lover in your life as well.  Whether you’re looking to improve your playing or just looking to expand your horizons this release is a great gateway into what drummers can be capable of doing. Although it may be wishful thinking on our parts that this is where the bar is set. I just need 5 more words.

BuyThomas Lang & Conrad Schrenk – Yumaflexlisten here.

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show review: Deafheaven – Wicker Park Fest (150726)

150626 - Deafheaven, Wicker Park Fest: is a shitty pic better than no pic?:photo by drumnmike
150626 – Deafheaven, Wicker Park Fest: is a shitty pic better than no pic?:photo by drumnmike

“You don’t mix emo with black metal.  The Norwegians would kill you.” said one accented chap as I was following the massive herd towards the exit when they were finished.

To the purists he might be right, but considering the large group of people watching something like this on a Sunday night at 9pm the majority tends to think it’s good.

Since i’m writing about the show, I find myself in the latter.  I must admit when I first heard their stuff I was hooked.  I really like the shoegaze, spacey aspect of them and I also dig the fast black metal drumming.  I’m starting to fade on insanely aggressive metal screaming, but for the time being it works for me.

If you’re not familiar you can check their highly acclaimed album Sunbather (released in 2013).  You’re either into the black metal style or not.  Seeing them live gave me more appreciation for them, but mostly the drummer.  The guitarists had a fairly mid tempo to faster strumming, while the drummer was insane about 70% of the time playing extremely fast 32nd or 64th notes with his blast beats, then moving over to fills, essentially playing very fast fills for the duration of songs.

One of the 2 founding members and vocalist George kept the crowd interested with his energy while the string instruments mostly stood around jamming.  George would dance around, rally the crowd into applause and cheers, and provide theatrical movements to the builds and punctuation in the songs.  He’s no stranger to being on stage and his excitement showed.

As with most festival/outdoor shows when I’m blown away like I was I’m upset I didn’t get to attend their indoor performance at SubT the previous night.  Seeing their intensity in a small space would have been overwhelming but it could’ve been a heck of a show.

They do a nice interpretation of the black metal style with an affinity for other styles of music which can help break up some of the monotony of black metal.  Although the monotony can be half the fund of it, their style blending adds a unique touch to what they’re doing.

George teased and then on July 28th the band confirmed their new album New Bermuda will be released in October. Looking forward to it.

show review:Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion – Thalia Hall (6/14/15)

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Photo by Clayton Hauck

“So do you have a huge jazz boner right now?” Kathryn asked.
“No, it’s more of a historical boner”.

Ginger Baker played Thalia Hall with his Jazz Confusion on Sunday, June 14th and we were fortunate enough to get tickets.  The floor is typically standing room with balcony seating around the hall, they set out rows of chairs on the floor for first come first served.  We sat about 10 rows back. Within seconds we realized no one was sitting in these chairs because the AC unit was dripping onto the seats.  We slid our chairs back 2 feet back to get away from the dripping and had wonderful seats for the show.

150614- ginger baker - thalia hall:photo by drumnmike
150614- ginger baker – although every picture i took of him makes him look like a ghost. Probably pale skin/bright lights in action- thalia hall:photo by drumnmike

The lights dimmed and Ginger and the other 3 members walked onstage. His percussionist helped a slow moving Ginger onto the drum riser, catching him when he stumbled up the stairs.  The percussionist sat at a set of 2 bongos and 2 spiral thrash cymbals at a height reminiscent of John Stanier. At one point Kathryn asked who had the idea first.  I’ve taught her well.

Although Ginger is in his 70’s, he’s playing as if drumming is the one thing he can still do fluidly. When he spoke between songs he’d have trouble breathing every few words, but he would quickly jump into the next song as he was finishing his next sentence.  The band would follow along, typically starting with a saxophone melody, then bass solo, then percussionist and ginger solo, then the full band would come in to bash it into the end.

Midway through the set when Ginger was speaking to the crowd he remarked that he had just gotten out of the hospital 10 days ago, and was livid that Thalia hall had so many stairs as that was one of the things he couldn’t do.  Although after watching Beware of Mr Baker movie spending time in the hospital and then playing shortly after is something that he routinely does, hearing him speak about it now can make someone wonder how many more times he’ll be able to get away with it.

They played a 40 minute set, took a small break then got back on the stage within 10 minutes to play for another 30 minutes.  They walked off stage then the percussionist led a very African style chant of “gingah bakah” for one last song.

The most reflective point of the night was Ginger’s brief intro before the 2nd to last song ‘Why‘.  This was the one song with vocals and he asked the audience to join in the chorus.  It was a slight build and everyone was to yell ‘Why!’.  Before starting the song he referenced the fact that he’s lost everything in his life so many times, and upon reflecting he appeared to have remorse. It seemed to be very painful for him to see the path of destruction that he left behind him.  On our way home Kathryn was enthralled by him and looked up more about him on the internet.  One very positive mention was that he saw his son either the previously night or around that time, so he might be taken the song Why to heart and taking some steps to right some of his wrongs.

150614- ginger baker - thalia hall:photo by drumnmike
150614- Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion sign – Thalia hall:photo by drumnmike

movie review:Stones Throw – Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton

My latest interest in movies has been the documentary, educational type.  Kathryn (wife) is very good at predicting movies as they’re as a problem occurs, calling the climax, resolution, etc but she still loves watching them all the way through.  She’ll even force herself through something that she knows sucks, just to do it.  Years ago my buddy and I would rent old horror movies and eat taco bell.  Since time has passed I’m mostly over that and get antsy watching movies that don’t grab my attention, or help me feel like I’m learning or gaining something.  I also have a hard time caring about the characters and displacing them from their ‘actor’ counterparts.  Even when there aren’t too famous actors in the roles.  However, I do like watching pointless cartoons and comedy sometimes, but that might be my search for joy.

This flick was educational and inspiring.  My main exposure to this label came with Madlib and his Beat Konducta series, as well the Yesterday’s New Quintet stuff. It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit but my knowledge of them was fairly surface level, although if you’re going to fall into something that’s some good stuff to fall into.  I’ve heard of Madvillian, MF Doom and of course Jay Dilla, but I never really dove into them.  I hope to correct this very soon. The flick follows Peanut Butter Wolf, founder of Stones Throw Records through the beginning of the label to when the movie came out.

The label started with PB Wolf’s (because we’re cool together) relationship with Charizma.  Wolf and Charizma were best friends until Charizma was shot and killed during a car jacking.  After a short period of time Wolf wanted to release the music the 2 of them made and thus started the label to release the material.  This eventually grew to him finding Madlib and the different projects that he helped spawn, as well a slew of other releases.

These guys lived in a house in LA and all the hip hop stars as of late would either be hanging out or living there with them. In the house there was a room that was originally built as a bomb shelter, so being a bunch of creative types they setup a studio inside of it and called the studio the Bomb Shelter. They would just hang out at the house making music. One of the main residents was Madlib.  That dude is freaking prolific. Looking at his discography you can get an idea just how into music this man is.  It’s embarrassing as I don’t know if I started now if I’d ever be able to create and be a part of as much as he is, all the while making it half as good as what he’s done.  Dude deserves his own documentary.

For lack of a better word, the climax of the film was the death of Jay Dilla.  After Jay Dilla passed Madlib, etc stopped making music like they were.  It was a big hit to the musical community to lose him and they all mostly lost it with him.  Half of the people interviewed felt like this was where the label turned away from hip hop into other releases, while the other half of the people interviewed thought Stones Throw was always putting out eccentric releases and not just hip hop.  It was most likely the bigger hip hop names that were getting press, so once that stopped the focus was back on the more eccentric releases they were doing.

The most inspiring thing to me was the fact that PB Wolf stuck to his guns and never sold out his label.  Since opening in 1996 a lot of changes have happened in the distribution of music, but he’s proof of finding your community and catering to them.  Near the end of the movie he mentioned that he releases these records for a handful of people and the others he doesn’t really care what they think.  Although that is somewhat of a luxury to say at this point, it’s clearly been something that he has stuck to and only releases the music that he’s been interested in releasing.

Overall the movie was great. My biggest complaint was that they could’ve made it 3 hours long and it still would’ve been interesting.  The movie mostly touched on the aforementioned artists briefly, and even more briefly touched on the more eccentric releases the label put out. The thing that this really did was inspire in the business and ethic sense as well make me want to dive into their catalog a lot deeper, and don’t bend your beliefs when a scare shows up in your industry.

Buy Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton – This Is Stones Throw Records

show review: Marinoan, Bardus, Those Dirty Thieves (7-20-15)

150720 - those dirty thieves - grandbar:photo by Drumnmike
150720 – those dirty thieves – grandbar:photo by Drumnmike

In time I’ll get to the point where I’ll pitch my shows before I actually play them, but in time.

Those Dirty Thieves drew my attention before they even played with the drummer and his wonderful picture on his bass drum.  After talking with the drummer he showed me the wood burned design that he had on his bass drum, which was possibly almost cooler than the bass drum head!

150720 - those dirty thieves bass drum - grandbar:photo by Drumnmike
150720 – those dirty thieves bass drum – grandbar:photo by Drumnmike

When the band took the stage they tore it up.  Dudes play a thrash metal punk type of thing, with most of their songs in the faster, aggressive yelling style.  The singer had a good sense of humor, keeping the crowd engaged between songs.  They kept it quick in between without a lot of down time, key to keeping folks engaged in the live setting.

150720 - Bardus - Grandbar:Photo By Drumnmike
150720 – Bardus – Grandbar:Photo By Drumnmike

Bardus, some dudes out of Philadelphia, are doing a semi tour and found there way in Chicago with us.  Through the coincidence of it being a small world after all I received a text a few days ago saying my buddy Nate knew Ari, the bass player in this band.

When they kicked into their first song they were in the same heavy vein as Those Dirty Thieves, but there was an almost psychedelic groove to them, playing more mid tempo.  For a 3 piece they made a lot of noise and had a big sound.  Their drummer had an awesome Gretsch drum set with a 26″ (!!) bass drum.  Mine is a 22 so dude definitely had a massive kick.  They’re continuing their tour in Milwaukee tonight, Michigan then Ohio.

150720 - marinoan - grandbar: photo by drumnmike
150720 – marinoan – grandbar: photo by drumnmike

and then Marinoan played.  We played our soon to be released EP in it’s entirety. I’m sure I’ll be posting about that in the weeks/months to come…

show review: Melt Banana, Torche, Hot Nerds at Empty Bottle (7-15-15)

150714 - Melt Banana - Empty Bottle:photo by Drumnmike
150715 – the 3 members of Melt Banana – Empty Bottle:photo by Drumnmike

Can the Japanese Noise-Grind Core group Melt Banana bring the metal intensity without a drummer?

150714 - Hot Nerds - Empty Bottle:photo by Drumnmike
150715 – Hot Nerds – Empty Bottle:photo by Drumnmike

San Fran natives Hot Nerds opened the show, but we walked in 3/4 through their set.  They played a type of carnival punk with guitar/vocals, acoustic drums and a synthesizer with songs clocking in under 2 minutes.  The vocals had an effect that he didn’t turn off during the entire performance, even when he was talking to the crowd.  The drummer pounded away on the drums with a ferocious intensity found in metal/punk drummers.  The singer was self deprecating about the songs but the group seemed to enjoy themselves. The crowd seemed to be into it.

150714 - Torche - Empty Bottle:photo by Drumnmike
150715 – Torche – Empty Bottle:photo by Drumnmike

Then Torche showed up.  This is when the place started to fill out a lot more and I had to weasel my way up. The music is heavy, but dude sings.  In the first song Steve was shredding a guitar solo with a leg up on the monitor, letting everyone know they weren’t going to sleep their way through the set.  He’d stick his tongue out and held the guitar up while acknowledging the first few rows of the crowd.  Their music is somewhat rowdy, but not enough that people would go nuts and throw each other around to any of their songs.  At least not on a Tuesday apparently. Or everyone there was older.  They played a good portion of tracks from their newest album, Restarter, but mixed in a good chunk from Harmonion.  Most of their songs are in the mid to uptempo range but the tune Minions really stuck out to me, and hearing it live was awesome.  I’m a fan of the more upbeat energetic songs and listening to this recorded seemed like the song would drag on, but seeing them perform it live gave me a new appreciation for it.  A crowd favorite was Letting Go,  but once they were Kicking in you could tell that was also one of the tunes that got the crowd hooked on the band. They played mostly straight through for their entire set, with just a few pauses to check the tuning, but even that was quick and they were appreciative that everyone was there to watch them, not see them tune, get a drink of water and dick around. Not sure if they played this song, but it’s one of my favorites.

150715 - Melt Banana Selfie - Empty Bottle:photo by Drumnmike
150715 – Melt Banana Selfie – Empty Bottle:photo by Drumnmike

Melt Banana was a band I haven’t been able to truly appreciate until seeing them live.  I’ll listen to them on occasion but to see them live was a whole new experience.  Being a weak ass old man I figured I’d see about 20 minutes and just leave, but once they started playing She had such an amazing energy that she brought to the stage it was hard to tear myself apart.  As a drummer I’m of course saddened when a band uses a drum machine, although I can definitely understand the why behind it.  Heck Aaron and I moved forward as a 2 piece because we were done with guitar players for a short while.  That has passed.  But the drum machine was great, and to have actually seen someone perform what they had tracked would’ve made it that much better.  Aaron mentioned that he saw them with Dave Witte and I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to handle it if that happened.

150715 - Melt Banana - Empty Bottle:photo by Drumnmike
150715 – Melt Banana – Empty Bottle:photo by Drumnmike

The movement of the singer Yasuko Onuki was electrifying, and the coordination between her and Ichirou Agata and the fluidity between songs made them playing with a drum machine and samples that much more impression.  Save for a few occasions they weren’t concerned with walking over to line up the computer to start a song, but instead would have synced arm swings and starts, as if they’ve played these songs thousands of times to perfect them.

show review: High Risk – Constellation (July 2 2015)

150702 - High Risk at Constellation: Photo by Drumnmike
150702 – High Risk at Constellation: Photo by Drumnmike

My main reason for attending this and thus staying was the Mark Guiliana drum clinic/after show.  I knew nothing of this group but I’m glad I stayed.  Remember when I mentioned that I have a hard time listening to newer jazz done with the instruments of old?  Well, this is something I can get down with and am excited to eat my words.  It was Mark Guiliana on acoustic drums, Dave Douglas on Trumpet, Shigeto on electronics and Jonathan Maron on Bass and keys.

I was obnoxiously annoyed right at the start, hearing the typical slow dramatic start that happens with most music, but that really is something I need to get over.  It lasted for a few minutes and got you adjusted to the group, and then they tore into it.  Although the songs were a jazz swing feel they weren’t your typical beat on the ride swing style jazz. The trumpet played melodies, but also veered on the edge of free jazz and drawn out sounds.  The electronics and the drums had a nice sync, complementing each other, but also having certain spots where they were allowed to breathe on their own and share their own voice.

150702-High Risk at Constellation: Photo by Drumnmike
150702-High Risk at Constellation: Photo by Drumnmike

There were multiple times throughout the set when Dave would step away from the stage and let the remaining members find their voice and play off of each other.  Most of the times this would end in a drum solo by Mark, and they were always interesting.  It was also cool to see Mark’s drum solos after he had explained his thinking and building into them ahead of time.  They would add to the song and slowly build instead of just trying to fit as many hits as possible into the space.

One of my favorite parts, aside from the drum solos, was when everyone except Shigeto left the stage and he was able to explore his sounds for a few minutes.  Another favorite thing about getting exposure to a group like this with independent musicians coming together for an album is the ability to be exposed to these new musicians, then diving into their catalog.  Having only heard of Mark, barely, I’m excited to dive deeper into his catalog. Reading up on Dave Douglas he’s recorded 40 albums as a band leader and got his start with Horace Silver.  That’s a dedicated dude.  Expect reviews in the future regarding the members projects. If more new wave does projects like this I’m excited to finally open up my mind and explore what else is being done with the genre. Please pardon my ignorance. (I’m open to suggestions)

Judging by Dave’s past experiences with bands this might be the only tour with this group of musicians so if you can find them playing live near you I’d highly recommend checking them out.

150702-High Risk at Constellation:Photo by Drumnmike
150702-High Risk at Constellation:Photo by Drumnmike

show review: Judah and the Lion – Pritzker Pavilion (7-9-15)

150709 Judah & the Lion - pritzker pavilion: photo by Drumnmike
150709 Judah & the Lion – pritzker pavilion: photo by Drumnmike

Today is Franny’s bday. Happy bday Franny.

After that Edward Sharpe show I was ready for some country or blue grass.  I brought my jug of red wine and bag of peanuts and was ready to finish them both in the hour and a half it took them to start and finish their set.  I had no idea that within 2 songs after introducing Twenty-somethings they were going to sing We built this city (with synchronized dancing and electro drums, then ignition (remix), then lose yourself.  Eventually they brought ‘shark attack’ onto the stage to freestyle rap with one of the members of their band.  Ken was calling for 99 problems but they never played it.

Although the band was a lot more loose, the crowd was a lot more subdued than the Snarky Puppy show.  This could’ve been due to the Taste of Chicago, or the fact they’re not as big as Snarky Puppy, but that’s #truth.

The band had great energy and for being a 6 piece they were having a blast hanging out and playing music together.  The music of country/blue grass/rap and cover songs were an interesting mix but it was clearly something they enjoyed doing.  The songs were something that they enjoyed listening to and thus playing as a band and that enjoyment transferred through with their songs.

Especially after listening to their recorded material they sound like a fairly chilled band, but the live show made them seem more like a pop or rock band that just so happened to have long hair, big beards and banjos.

150709 Judah & the Lion - pritzker pavilion: photo by Drumnmike
150709 Judah & the Lion – pritzker pavilion: photo by Drumnmike

alright i’m going.

show review:Four Star Brass Band – North Center (7-8-15)

150708-Four Star Brass Band - North Center:Photo By Drumnmike
150708-Four Star Brass Band – North Center:Photo By Drumnmike

Buy Four Star Brass Bandlisten here

Sometimes when you’re chilling at work and receive an email about a show that evening you get a little excited that maybe it’ll be super fun and you should probably go.  I met Kathryn after she finished her running session and she needed food.

We walked to the dead end street and the band was on stage, getting ready to play.  Surrounded by them in the dead end street were probably 50 kids, with about 1/3 as many parents. This was a very small neighborhood event, almost like a block party on a Tuesday, with kids running around like nuts popping balloons and hitting the great clips mascot with blow up bowling pins.  I had a brief glimpse into my future and my heart skipped a beat.

After making a comment about the insanity of the kids playing on the Divvy bikes at the nearby station Kathryn talked about not letting our kids do that, or keeping them in control.  I really hope she’s right.  Otherwise that’s what they call paper trading.

150708-Four Star Brass Band: Photo by Drumnmike
150708-Four Star Brass Band: Photo by Drumnmike

After getting her fed we moved from the curb to the seats. Since most folks were just hanging around trying to keep their kids from going nuts we somewhat had the seats to ourselves, although a girl walking a random dog (she didn’t own the thing) kept coming by us and so we pet it a few times, but mostly we were by ourselves.

The drizzle started but we were safely under a tree and so surprisingly we didn’t get wet.  We were commended by a local member of the community for sitting out there without an umbrella, but, really I got maybe 2 drips on my pants.  We didn’t melt.

150708-Four Star Brass Band: Photo by Drumnmike
150708-Four Star Brass Band: Photo by Drumnmike

They played some well known songs, My Girl, Chicago, and then played our wedding song, the Cissy Strut. My issue was that they called them the Funky Meters, but what’re you gonna do.  It’s cool to see some dudes bringing that song back. The music was a fun blend of New Orleans style jazz playing some known tunes.  The crowd was obviously a little mixed, but after spending an afternoon in the hot sun and hydrating all day I can see how this stuff can really throw down, and a good time could be had by all.  They had a nice swing and even though they were playing to a bunch of non-attentive kids adn their parents they were still having fun.  They cut it early so their instruments wouldn’t rust but maybe I’ll see them at Jeff fest.

Buy Four Star Brass Bandlisten here

150708-wet chairs: Photo by Drumnmike
150708-wet chairs: Photo by Drumnmike

show review: Rush Hour Concerts – Ravinia in Chicago (7-7-15)

150707-St James Cathedral, Ravinia Steans music Rush hour concert:Photo by Drumnmike
150707-St James Cathedral, Ravinia Steans music Rush hour concert:Photo by Drumnmike

One of the wonderful things about living in Chicago, especially in the summer (because let’s be real, that’s the only smart time to be living in Chicago) are the concerts that happen.  Started 6 years ago the Rush Hour concert series presents a free half hour concert starting at 5:45 pm CST every Tuesday from June – August. My Aunt and Uncle invited us but unfortunately had to bow out.  Kathryn & I still thought it’d be fun to attend.

I arrived shortly before 5 to a mixed crowd of folks standing outside the door.  Some were homeless and others looked like they were waiting for the concert.  After waiting til 5:05 I decided to go in and check out what was going on. There was a door lady greeting and directing people for the event. I told her that some people outside thought they weren’t opened yet so they didn’t know that they could come in.  She told me to tell them it was OK to come in since she couldn’t leave. I went outside to give the good news, then gave her the thumbs up when I came back in on my way to the lecture on the other side of the foyer.

The talk featured 2 musicians from the performance discussing the musical program they were attending for the summer (Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute), their plans for the future, etc.  Decent talk but I had to meet Kathryn.  I went back to the door lady and she mentioned “oh you know those people were waiting for the meal downstairs, and they just weren’t ready yet”.  oops.. I apologized, she told me it was no big deal, but now I know.

150707 - st james cathedral  - Piano Quartet:Photo by Drumnmike
150707 – st james cathedral – Piano Quartet:Photo by Drumnmike

The performance started promptly at 5:45 and was over just as soon as it started.  It featured members of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, musicians who have or are finishing their bachelors degree and are continuing their musical studies. The Steans Music Institute is an intense summer program they attend and their rehearsals were outside of their regular training for the group. The quartet consisted of a violin, viola, cello and piano. They played 2 songs by Gabriel Faure (1845-1924), Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op 45: I. Allegro molto moderato and II. Scherzo: Allergo molto. This was my first exposure to Faure but the songs were played beautifully and with ease, not giving off any impression they were new to this.

150707- St James Cathedral - Piano Quintet:Photo by Drumnmike
150707- St James Cathedral – Piano Quintet:Photo by Drumnmike

Next the quintet, consisting of 2 violins, viola, cello and piano played a piece  by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34 – I. Allegro Non Troppo. This song is stunning and leads to a gorgeous climactic ending with the piano and strings playing off each other. The song shifted between intense to dreamy and back to dramatic.

It was a lovely performance in a beautiful space and I hope we can attend more of these before the summer ends. Come say Hi if you make it out.