Drummer/bandleader Andrew Drury is a New York-based free musician of some note: he works frequently with violinists Jason Kao Hwang and Eyvind Kang, trumpeter Nate Wooley, trombonist Steve Swell, bassist Reuben Radding, saxophonists Briggan Krauss and Jessica Lurie, and many others. An adventurous improviser, he’s worked with choreographers, co-created a street theater piece performed in Latin America in the early 1990s, and performed “Earth Solos” (site-specific drum solos) throughout the American West.
This month, he’s releasing two new albums, Content Provider and The Drum, on his own Soup & Sound label. Content Provider features a band made up of Krauss and Ingrid Laubrock on saxophones (alto and tenor, respectively), Brandon Seabrook on guitar, and Drury behind the kit. All the compositions are Drury’s, except for a version of Clifford Brown‘s “Daahoud.” With a lineup like that, the risk of the music becoming timbrally harsh and clanging is pretty high. Here’s what Drury had to say about that, and about where his playing fit into the ensemble sound:
I wasn’t thinking timbrally as much as socially and compositionally. The major motivator in creating this band was my raw excitement of putting these three people together with me in a band and seeing what could happen. Briggan and Brandon both have such distinctive voices on their instruments and get into frenetic improvisational energies as well as texture oriented stuff. I’ve played with Briggan for two decades, and Brandon for one, and long hoped to find a way to make a group with them. Ingrid is someone I’ve been listening to for fewer years but with great admiration. From the first time I heard her (we were playing in a large ensemble with Ras Moshe) I thought she was a monster. She’s a powerful player who also plays with a lot of nuance, a great listener, very versatile, and musically smart. I also hear jazz tradition references in her playing in a way that resonates with me in important ways, and while she clearly loves and respects that, she really gets into the nuts and bolts of sound too. All three of them are very strong rhythmically and have so much wisdom, are full of surprises, and make magic happen.
Compositionally I also know I can write some weird shit—intensely syncopated stuff that a drummer thinks about, metric stuff—and they’ll be able to play it with no fuss. Really that’s about the beginning and end of it. Whatever particular sound timbres people make are relatively superficial issues or “useful limitations.” They can be employed musically in all kinds of ways and if it’s harsh and clanging at times—or ambient, mellow, and percussive at others—I’m totally OK with that because that will be the identity of that particular band. The juice comes from the imaginative powers of the players working together. And besides if I want to get into some other sounds at some point, and I’m sure I will, I’ll put together a different group. But these three I really dig as people and sonic wizards.
Stream “Content Provider”:
The Drum, meanwhile, is a set of eight improvisations performed on a single floor tom with a few additional objects (the liner notes list a faucet escutcheon, a bell, and an aluminum sheet).
Stream “Control and Let Go”:
Drury said the following about “Control and Let Go” via email:
I made “Control and Let Go” using a faucet escutcheon (a bell-like piece of decorative plumbing), breath (no voice), and a second bell that puts nodes and pressure on a drum head. In this piece the drum is a wind instrument. I blow into a hole in the top of the escutcheon, air pressure builds inside (like a miniature metallic bagpipe), and air escapes between the bottom of the escutcheon and the drum head, exciting the drum head to produce particular frequencies and sustained tones.
I use this technique in different ways but this piece explores some quiet, delicate harmonic instabilities I had noticed and begun to be able to harness in recent years—certain microtonal shifts, dissonances, beating effects and the like that that I thought were pretty cool but which are very quiet, often inaudible in a group context. They are kind of hard to produce and maintain. The drum wants to resonate at easier frequencies so it takes a lot for me, a non-wind player by training, to control my embouchure and breath to initiate and sustain these sounds. In order to maintain the precise point where the instability won’t resolve into either a higher or lower, more stable, and less complicated set of frequencies I try to keep everything the same—I have this sensation of letting go.
I’d say what The Drum boils down to is the manipulation of the harmonic possibilities of the drum head using breath and friction. (After I finished the album I realized I never actually “hit” the drum once.) It began as a way to document and share/disseminate some things that I’d more or less unconsciously developed over that last five years or so. The further I went with this way of playing the more musical I began to get with it and because I felt it was a bit unusual I decided it needed to be presented in a recording.
With a violin, guitar, saxophone, etc., vibrations move up and down a string or column of air and by stopping the length of that more or less one dimensional, linear vibration at a certain point the musician “fixes” the pitch at some desirable point, e.g. A 440. The frequencies being produced tend to be grouped strongly around one pitch that human ears easily distinguish, and we call this a “definite pitch.”
A drum head, by contrast, is a circle, a two-dimensional plane. This means frequencies travel in all directions at once and can’t be stopped so easily so that the active frequencies are grouped around one dominant pitch. This indefinite pitch production may be the essence of “percussion” as defined by the people who define such things. By placing another object on the drum head, one creates nodes that radically alter the whole interdependent matrix of frequencies being produced. (It also can give the head something to slap against, like snares or a harmon mute, to add buzzing sounds). This has all kinds of implications for a musician.