I’m still not sure what to make of Brooklyn-based drummer/composer Mike Pride. I passed on a review of his 2010 album, Betweenwhile, because I just couldn’t get with it at the time. He calls his band From Bacteria To Boys, and that takes some overlooking. But I’ve since grown to appreciate Betweenwhile‘s subtle fusion of postbop with the tough urban melodicism of R&B and HipHop, so I was keen to hear Pride’s new Boys album, Birthing Days (AUM Fidelity) and the simultaneously-released, percussion-centric Drummer’s Corpse.
I was even more keen when, no offence intended to the outgoing Darius Jones, I saw he’d been replaced as Boys’ saxophonist, alongside the established Alexis Marcelo (keys), and Peter Bitenc (bass), by wildcard virtuoso Jon Irabagon (Mostly Other People do the Killing, Barry Altschul 3dom Factor).
As on Betweenwhile, Marcelo’s piano playing is a highlight of this group’s sound; but I’m not so taken with his synthesizer playing on the first two tracks on Birthing Days: “79 Beatdowns of Infinite Justice, the” and “Birthing Days”. Both powerfully flexible ensemble workouts, on the former he chimes in with unstable, harpsichordal flurries. It’s unsettling. He’s more fluent on Birthing Days, still harpsichord-bright but earthed, sometimes, by guest player Jason Stein’s bass clarinet.
Stein and another guest, tenor saxophonist Jonathan Moritz expand the group to a sextet on one other track, “CLAP”, while Moritz also features on the quintet piece, “Fuller Place”. The range of reed textures signify a stage in the Bacteria to Boys evolution that’s looser and more expansively jazzy, more metrically complex and freeform than the previously harder, more contemporary urban rhythmic: it’s fitting that late, great drummer Paul Motian gets a nod on the closing “Motiaon”.
Pride says he wanted Birthing Days to reflect his inclusive musical “past and interests (jazz…punk/hardcore, modern classical…) as a nonhierarchical whole;” yet the accompanying quotation from John Coltrane—”This is a big, beautiful universe we live in, and here’s an example of just how magnificent and encompassing it is”—proves a truer guide to its sound. The album’s songbook was apparently written in a creative rush, in response to the birth of Pride’s first child, Charlie. That’s him on the cover, looking just like the protagonist of Hendrix’ “Belly Button Window”.
Pride refers to the title piece on Birthing Days‘ sister album, Drummer’s Corpse (AUM Fidelity), as “my Ascension“; a further nod to Coltrane, albeit this time his album art pays oblique homage to Tony Oxley, and his classic album 4 Compositions For Sextet. Unfortunately, on this occasion, Pride’s music doesn’t match such hints of vaulting ambition.
The first of just two lengthy pieces, the title track is a half-hour percussive melange with an interminable organ sustain running through it. There are seven percussionists at play here, all on drums and gongs (Pride, Oran Canfield, Russell Greenberg, John McClellan, Bobby Previte, Ches Smith, and Tyshawn Sorey), plus Marissa Perel and Fritz Welch on vocals and additional percussion, Chris Welcome on guitar, and Pride adding nose flute to his own percussion arsenal. A heavyweight session, then, and the drummers drum up a thunderhead that could roll anywhere, but settles into a dense, cohesive but unstable cumulus.
Then the wordless vocalese kicks in. Pride and Welch squall and chunter just like Yamantaka Eye, while Perel responds with emotive inarticulation, and the hitherto merely tempting comparison to Boredoms becomes undeniable.
The pastiche is too faithful to be worthwhile. The kindest assessment of “Drummer’s Corpse” is as an evocation of a missing stage in Boredoms evolution. The Japanese ensemble developed fast from anarcho-jazz/punk origins into a tightly-drilled drum circle which, en route, had no time to document any transitional anarcho-percussion music (perhaps there was none). This track plugs that gap, but you’d probably have more fun with Foot Village.
The album is completed by a more original piece, the 26 minute “Some Will Die Animals (for Gen Makino)”, on which the core group is a trio: Pride (bass drums and tom-toms), Welcome (guitar) and Eivind Opsvik (double bassist). Their interplay is deft enough, the guitar picking exploratory around a grave bass line, but the instrumental tracks are interrupted by overlaid multitrack recitations; four voices in a didactically stagey and all-but unlistenable Babel. There’s more unaccompanied music; brooding tension in the instrumental three-way, Pride excelling in scorched Earth emphases; but, unfortunately, those voices return before the end, and they tax your listening pleasure pretty heavily.