Peter Erskine's Infinity Drummers List is the gift that keeps on giving. recently, he posted this great track from The Yellowjackets featuring the incredible Will Kennedy on drums…….
Cool groove, huh? And here's Mr. Kennedy explaining the main beat he played…..
Also worth mentioning is how Peter Erskine described the performance on the recording. please note how Will keeps things bubbling and interesting without ever losing focus or the groove. He is a master at improvising within the "fusion" rhythm section arena ... exciting without blowing his cool.
Of course Mr. Erskine is absolutely right, and that got me thinking about how we as drummers have balance different amounts of keeping the form, groove, and interaction with the soloist depending of the style/situation we're in.
Let's take a look at a very different example. Here's Rashied Ali playing with John Coltrane on Trane's tune "Ogunde"
Now, there's definitely a "Head" in the sense that there's a melody that's played at the beginning and end, but the band plays rubato throughout so they're not necessarily thinking of a groove, more like keeping the momentum going while filling up the sonic space. And as far as the blowing goes, they're playing off the spirit of the melody, but otherwise it's definitely open….If you don't generally play styles like this, it's good to play along with open form music to figure out ways to support the soloist and create variety without necessarily playing in a strict tempo.
Now, here's an example that plays against type. Although Tony Williams was very at home in Avant Garde musical situations, he also knew when a tune needed a relentless groove as a "hook". I won't tell you what the tune is, but if you've heard it more than once, you will recognize it from the first couple of bars….
Also note that Tony doesn't really deviate much from that groove the whole performance through. Certainly he follows the dynamics inherent in the tune and the soloist's needs, but for a drummer who could play lots of crazy things, HE DOESN'T. Why? Because that doesn't suit this tune…….
I think what we can conclude is that we as drummers are constantly navigating how attention we're putting on the form/arrangement, the groove, and the soloist and/or vocalist. There is no "one size fits all". it totally is situation dependent. As always, use your ears, both when enjoying other's performances as well as when you're in the driver's seat!