show review: Benny Greb, Steve Smith, Mike Mangini – Martyrs Chicago (150807)

150807 - Benny Greb - Martyrs: Photato by Drumnmike
150807 – Benny Greb – Martyrs: Photato by Drumnmike

Out of all the Chicago venue’s that I’ve either played or watched a show this was the first time I was at Martyrs.  It’s a fairly small, or for higher selling point ‘intimate venue’, with tables and chairs setup in front of the stage for this show, with standing room surrounding the seating area.  There were actually 2 bars on each side of the place which made it very convenient.  There were 3 drum sets setup on stage and once Benny took the stage we moved to the other side of the venue to make sure he wasn’t blocked by the conveniently placed posts throughout the venue. There were maybe 20 women at the show, including the woman who sang.  Sadly I think they were just there with their boyfriends or husbands, like mine was.  There could be an opportunity to get more girls into drumming.

Benny Greb is mostly an educator in Germany, although he recently released the awesome album Moving Parts as a trio. After hearing that album I was pissed to find out he’s not a big touring dude so the chance to see/hear him at Martyrs as part of the drum night was awesome and dumb luck it happened so shortly after hearing about him.  The drummers chose the songs that they played with the bands for the evening.  Benny started with Remember the Time, then a song that I’ve never heard, something about putting your money into the gas tank, an amazing drum solo, I shot the Sherriff then Day Tripper. The drums are just a weird extension of this man and he just messes with odd timing on the slow and fast side and triplets walking around the fine line that is the steady beat.  His solo wasn’t just crazy rolls but a mix of awesome groove and then some crazy fills.  As I’m now listening to this song it’s not exactly what his solo was, but this gives you an idea how he solos. My biggest complaint is that he didn’t play longer.

150807 - Steve Smith Sticks - Martyrs: Photato by Drumnmike
150807 – Steve Smith sticks – Martyrs: Photato by Drumnmike

As we were clapping for Benny Steve Smith walked up on stage and sat right next to the pole.  This was my view throughout the whole time he played as the venue was looking full at the other side. Steve’s position was funny when he’d play his right hand on the high hat and his left hand on the black snare just to the right of the pole.  I wish I would’ve gotten a picture of that.  Steve’s main credit for drumming is his early work with the band Journey from 1978 – 1985. Although that’s his most well known credit he’s really created a whole new life for himself with drumming since then as a session player, jazz player, educator, etc. Modern Drummer magazine voted him all around best drummer 5 years in a row.  Steve’s set consisted of jazz pieces, first a song with sticks, then with brushes,then back to sticks.  Eventually he picked up an African style drum and played with his hands on the drum and the set.  For his last song he started scatting into his microphone, mimicking drum fills and beats. Then he started playing set along to this.  This was insane.  His scatting was better than some playing that I’ve heard and I didn’t hear any word trip ups in what he was doing, and he was flying through it.  It was awesome.

150807 Mike Mangini - Martyrs: Photato by Drumnmike
150807 Mike Mangini – Martyrs: Photato by Drumnmike

As we were clapping for Steve Mike Mangini took the stage.  He’s the current drummer for prog band Dream Theater and during 2002 – 2005 set 5 worlds fastest drummer records. He started smoothly leading into Stevie Wonders ‘Superstition’, followed by a brief guitar lick to lead into You don’t have to be rich.  He played Higher Learning with an extending ending including riffing back and forth between bass, keys and drums.  Through out his playing he mostly focused on his groove, which was more straight than swing and showcasing his double bass/fast hand fills.  At one point he was doing a single handed roll which was insanely fast while he accented over the toms with his right hand.  It was an awesome display.  As he was finishing up Steve and Benny were next to the stage and I had a feeling what would happen next.

150807 Greb, Mangini and Smith - Martyrs: Photato by Drumnmike
150807 Greb, Mangini and Smith – Martyrs: Photato by Drumnmike

When the band finished their tune they walked to the side of the stage and Steve and Benny took place at their drum kits.  Steve started scatting again and all 3 drummers played along.  They each played a brief solo throughout the short performance and it was really cool to see the 3 distinct styles playing along to Steve’s voice.

When they finished their tune they started a simple rhythm on the snare drum, and Dave Weckl and Jojo Meyer walked onto the stage.  They setup in a line from right to left of Mike Mangini, Steve Smith, Dave Weckl, Benny Greb and Jojo Meyer each with a snare drum in front of them, and a sideways bass drum in between Jojo and Benny.  The band joined them briefly for a rendition of When the Saints go Marching in. Then the band stopped to let the drummer play off of each other starting with an 8 bar snare beat from Mike on down the line.  A few times Benny was caught up in the fun and missed his starting point but he quickly caught it and it was a humorous instance between everyone.

150807 Meyer, Greb, Weckly, Smith and Mangini - Martyrs: Photato by Drumnmike
150807 Meyer, Greb, Weckly, Smith and Mangini – Martyrs: Photato by Drumnmike

It was awesome to watch the masters play off of each others style and see the fun the drum community can have with each other.  Each style is slightly different and each drummer brought their unique style to the snare drum.  I’m excited for the 2nd show on Tuesday!

I am sad that Benny didn’t come out of the back as I would’ve loved to shake his hand and get a selfie.  Such is life, it was still awesome.

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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.

album review: Stanton Moore – Conversations

listen here.
My first exposure to Stanton was on a Drumeo free lesson, in which the man showed his chops and clearly had a wonderful time playing the drums.  The picture of him smiling on this cover isn’t an act: this dude is happy playing the drums.  To see this much joy come from someone doing something almost makes me feel uneasy, but it should be something to aspire to.

He jokes about this in the Drumeo video but this guy has probably one of the loosest snare drums ever recorded.  Artistic choice, why not do it. He also grew up in Louisiana, which helps put the style of jazz on this release into perspective (new orleans/ragtime).

Now I have a hard time listening to ‘newer’ jazz and blues, not because I don’t think it’s good, but I just have such an affection towards Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Art Blakey, etc that I feel like the pinnacle of jazz was hit some 60 years ago, and now we’re all trying to play catch up to what they’ve done, but all in the spirit of respecting what they’ve done. This just puts me in an odd perspective when wanting to enjoy the music, because most times when I’ll listen to newer jazz I hear those older musicians in their music and would rather listen to that stuff. There’s probably no way to write this paragraph and not sound pompous, but I poured a lot of time into the original masters and their music really hit home with me.

But that being said, this is a solid effort.  This music pays respect to those musicians with the style, but takes on a ragtime, more melodic style, instead of the typical scale and improvisation back and forth.  The also leave Mr Moore a lot of room to breathe and create rhythms that aren’t similar to the typical drum patterns and styles from the 50’s, etc.  In this regard the album is strongest. The majority of the songs have space for a drum solo and that remains the constant throughout the release.  I mean, what would you expect when the album is named after the drummer?  Most songs are upbeat and Stanton easily carries the tunes, with the piano and bass complimenting his playing. The drum solo breakdowns are all different showing off his versatility in playing.

This album is strongest with the drummer crowds, but the piano playing is reminiscent of old saloon and ragtime style, with compliments from the bass.  This can fit in easily with other straight forward jazz artists (Louis Armstrong, etc) and if you know how to do the Charleston this could work as dance music, too.  You can find more of his work at his website.