Blindfold Bootleg Series: Austin McMahon

AustinMcMahon

I consider Austin to be one of the most talented, acute artists of my generation to sit at the drum throne. He’s got a great sophisticated touch on the set and as a horn player, he’s VERY easy to make music with because he has a strong set of musical ears. He also co-leads the Quartet of Happiness, one of the frontrunners in introducing children to thee are of jazz and improvisation in a fresh and interactive way! Here’s what Austin had to say after hearing the test examples:

Example 1-Clarence Penn in London with Jason Palmer and Cedric Hanriot’s City of Poets (2014)

1) I love the phrasing of this example. The drummer has such command of the time amidst this syncopated (yet spacious) vamp. Although the gestures are fragmented and largely occurring within the spaces of the accompaniment, the solo has a clear shape and direction to it. I particularly enjoy the superimposition of other meters/grooves and his sonic concept. Nowadays, it seems more and more drummers are utilizing “prepared” sounds like a heavily muffled snare or additional high-pitched auxiliary drum (as heard in this example) to add a little more color to the drummer’s palette. Based on this brief example I’m not certain who this drummer is and therefore would rather be surprised and hope to check them out more in the future!

After: Ah, yes, Clarence Penn. I actually thought of him for a second when I heard the splash cymbal but didn’t put all the pieces together. I love how he’s incorporated the roll of a percussionist into his drumset playing and utilizes auxiliary percussion like wood blocks or triangles in a tasteful way. Recently I’ve enjoyed his playing on several records and live performances in recent years specifically with Kate McGarry and Maria Schneider’s orchestra.

Example 2-Kendrick Scott Tribute to Herbie Hancock in NYC (year unknown)

2) This drum intro leaves me wondering many things. The vocabulary sounds heavily influenced by the great Roy Haynes but the tuning of the drums seems more contemporary. And, the extensive use of the hihat is not nearly as common amongst modern drummers as it once was. Though this may seem like a strange take on this example my honest guess is that this is an older drummer sitting in and playing someone else’s (modern) drums. (Again, I’m consciously choosing not to mention names for lack of certainty.) Either way, if it happens to be a younger drummer, I would applaud their dedication in studying the foundation of our idiom. In my opinion, this drummer has not cut corners to get to this level of playing.

After: I’m glad to hear this is Kendrick Scott. I love his playing and he is definitely a player who has done his share of studying the lineage of the drumset (thus fooling me into thinking he was an “older” drummer). He is quite a driving force in modern jazz and has had a big influence on my playing. I really love his “Oracle” group and how well constructed the music is – not just the drumming. He’s a fabulous musician.

Example 3-Jochen Ruechert in England (year unknown)

3) Wow, this drummer is so “inside” of the accompaniment that it seems uncanny. My feeling is that this drummer is also a composer (not of this example) and thus really understands the direction of the music and can dance around and within it very liberally. The solo also makes me think that this drummer is either an extremely good reader of difficulty music or has played this particular song many times, or both. It’s very interesting to me to try to make guesses at who this may be when I hear vocabulary and cymbal sound and drum tuning that’s used by lots of contemporary jazz drummers. If this were a studio album it’s possible that some of the subtleties/individualities would stand out to me but with live recordings a lot of that is lost. Whoever it is, I like it a lot and would assume this is a very busy hardworking drummer.

After: Jochen Rueckert is on my latest favorites. I’m a big fan of his playing with Marc Copland and his electronic music project “Wolff Parkinson White”. Sometimes when I’m listening to him I feel like there was a snapshot of jazz taken in the late 1960’s and he is building upon that style, approach and vocabulary. I mean that as the highest compliment since many drummers strive to achieve what drummers of that era were doing and I think Jochen understands that language deeply. That mixed with his fiery modern edge blend to create a very exciting and engaging approach to drumming.

Example 4-Marcus Gilmore in Boston with Nicholas Payton 5tet (year unknown)

4) I find it hard to hone in on an honest guess on this one because the sound of the cymbals and drums are obscured and sound compressed. The beginning is reminiscent of a free jazz approach to time playing like that of Paul Motian with a little more modern edge which, then leads more towards a more Tony William’s influenced approach to uptempo time playing. Overall, I don’t know who this is but, I feel this solo was inspired to a degree by Tony Williams. And again, the drummer has done their homework.

After: I still wouldn’t have been able to guess this was Marcus Gilmore but now I do hear some similarities in approach to some recordings of Vijay Iyer’s trio, which feature Marcus. I love the fluidity of his playing and how he makes time and grooves feel so liquid even in very complex meters and forms. When he plays drums I feel he evokes a true love of the instrument.

Example 5-Obed Calvaire in Cambridge with Kurt Rosenwinkel 5tet (year unknown)

5) This is the first time during this blindfold test that I will actually mention a name of who I think the drummer is. I don’t know many other drummers on the scene today with such command of the instrument and ability to build a solo to peak and continue pushing upwards from there. There is such musicality and technical mastery on display here. I love his sound as well. This must be Eric Harland.

After: Obed! I remember hearing his name when I was a student at the University of Miami in early 2000’s and he was at the New World School for the Arts High School. After that when he attended Manhattan School of Music he would come sit in at jam sessions when he was visiting Miami and blow people away with his feel. It wasn’t long before he was making waves in New York’s jazz scene. Wow, what a great player! I can only hope that he’d see it as a compliment that I thought he was Eric Harland. Both are fantastic drummers at the top of the game.

Example 6-Jamire Williams in NYC with Darren Barrett and Myron Walden

6) This is an enjoyable solo with some interesting push and pull on the time feel. There are moments of an almost exaggerated swing feeling as the drummer moves around the toms as Max Roach would but meanwhile a lot of heavy cymbals and Blakey like gestures. Again, I hear a young/contemporary drummer and strong influences from the hardbop era but I’m unable to pinpoint who this may be for sure.

After: I still wouldn’t have been able to get this one but since being given the answers to this blindfold test I’ve been exploring Jamire’s music and have really enjoyed what I’ve heard so far. I’m glad he’s on my radar now. He seems to be part of the new movement of drummers who have many other musical talents and knows how to use them to create truly fresh sounding new music.

Example 7-Jeff Ballard in London with Jason Palmer, Michael Janisch, and Julian Siegel.

7) Yes, I will name another name during this test because I have no doubts that this is the one and only Jeff Ballard. His sound and vocabulary are both so refined and individual. To me, his whole approach is unmistakable and so musical. This is what jazz drumming has always been about and he makes it sound so fresh – I love this solo.

After: Yep, Jeff Ballard. I love his touch on the ride cymbal. It’s particularly on display in the later part of this example. It’s like he’s dancing on the ride and tying the whole drumset together with that sound. Really fantastic drumming and musicianship.

Keep up with Austin via his website!

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