The Melbourne International Jazz Festival offered up a treat last Friday: Chris Dave and the Drumhedz. The crowd at 170 Russell was the beanie and baseball cap crowd as opposed to the beret and porkpie hat crowd you see at Jazzlab.
What caught the eye on entering the venue was the sculptural effect of Dave’s modified drum kit: a pair of cymbals on tall poles were sliced so they unfurled into spirals and a tambourine sat on the high hat, set up for a continuous right-hand beat.
We were kept waiting for nearly 45 minutes listening to a DJ until Dave et al took to the stage; if there was a reason for this delay, it wasn’t explained. On opening the keyboards (Bobby Sparks) and Marcus Strickland on sax (Marcus Strickland from New Jawn made a cameo appearance latere), dominated. Nick McNack played bass. Isaiah Sharkey was on guitar.
Electronica and various other percussive effects provided the engine room for the bass, guitar, keyboards, saxophone and Gene Moore’s vocals created an ever-changing musical landscape: a blues, funk, electronica and jazz fusion.
Dave’s drumming slid across different genres in each segment, with shifts in timing and pace sneaking across a rhythmic shapeshifter of a performance: Dave’s drumming is persistent, refined, commanding, leading-from-behind-but-not-really, tickly, rapid, smooth, tight, disciplined percussion, underscored by his killer kickdrum action.
Chris Dave’s background is in gospel music and of course there were references to that, with a surge of church organ music at one stage and gospel rhythms insinuated into the lounge, the R&B, the funk, the hiphop, the rock, and the electronica. The music, polyrhythmic and highly syncopated, scuttled, crept and soared across genre and form, with or without backbeat, creating meticulous percussive road maps between each number.
Dave, composer, bandleader and instrumentalist, has added go-to studio beats for eclectic luminaries such as jazz great Kenny Garett, Adele, Dolly Parsons, D’Angelo, Julia and Angus Stone, and his reimagined eclectic catalogue came with his modest imprecation to please “keep an open mind and an open heart” when entering his musical world. The show included works from the Drumhedz’s debut album, Chris Dave and the Drumhedz, recently released on Blue Note Records.
The Drumheadz’ washes of fluid tone-colours, syncopations and cross rhythms were by turns delicate, dramatic, eerie, and even at times bordering on wall-of-sound with innovative percussion-led inventions mixing jazz, funk, electronic dance and psycho-trance.
There were some divine vocals from Moore, whose voice is of a fine timbre; he sounded like a young Stevie Wonder. With the occasional echoing and splitting of his voice there were nods to some of Bowie’s arrangements from the late 1970s.
The prolonged, less dramatic interludes were spoilt by background chatter: beyond annoying. I had unkind thoughts about the limited attention span of the younger generation, especially considering how many mobiles were being checked. Someone in front of me even took a voice call.
This was a drumming masterclass: all quick changes, rapid shifts, rhythms leaping across genres in seconds but always disciplined, constant and smooth, smooth, smooth. There was no frenzied rock assault from the drum solo, which was saved for last.
It was all one big unusual groove.
2018 Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Chris Dave and the Drumhedz
Venue: 170 Russell | 170 Russell Street, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 8 June 2018