Romantic Warrior: Amazing powerhouse drumming by Lenny White for this wonderful group, Return to Forever.
The other day I was listening to Joe Henderson’s wonderful tribute album to Miles Davis So Near, So Far after many years and I was struck by the quality of Al Foster’s drumming, sharp, fluid, uplifting. It was fantastic, good enough to take to an uninhabited island for company. I like drummers. I am not a big Neil Peart fan, nor of the Slip Knot drummer or Dave Grohl or Travis Barker or Vinnie Colaiuta or Mike Portnoy, or Billy Cobham either, although they are impressive. I like drummers with soul, the ones with deft rhythms, sly touches and swing. I made a list of 10 other albums where drummers have made a difference, sort of like a top 10, if you like. I know it is idiosyncratic, and very open to debate, but here they are:
Joy of Flying: Early fusion album where Tony Williams collaborates with a number of first-rate musicians. Coming Back Home, where George Benson and Jan Hammer do a slow burn which spreads, has stayed with me for decades. I am sucker for Williams; check out Quartets where he blisters his way through Thelonius Monk’s Well, You Needn’t.
Romantic Warrior: Amazing powerhouse drumming by Lenny White for this wonderful group, Return to Forever. He drives fleet-fingered Chick Corea and the staggering bassist Stanley Clarke. It’s a very together album made all the more cohesive by Lenny.
Steps Ahead: Eponymous album; Peter Erskine is the drummer in this very fine venture which features Mike Mainieri on vibraphone and Eddie Gomez and the lovely Eliane Elias on piano, with an astounding Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone. Erskine, who has made many fine appearances for that other wonderful group Weather Report, doesn’t leave any space unfilled.
How can I not include an album featuring Steve Gadd? He is the drummer on Paul Simon’s Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover and Steely Dan’s Gaucho. I am including his work in Corea’s album Three Quartets. It is wonderful, the way he frames the music, so deft, so tasteful, classy, and, I swear, melodious.
Stix Hooper of Crusaders, a group which deserved much more recognition than they got, is another big hitter that I favour. He is all soul. I recommend The Crusaders’ Live in Japan. Twin guitars: Barry Finerty, Roland Batista, the great Alphonso Johnson on bass, in addition to the rest of the core Crusaders, Wilton Felder (tenor sax), Joe Sample, keyboards.
Standards Volume 1: A fine trio recording with Keith Jarrett on piano (and some would add accompanying vocals as well), the superb Gary Peacock on upright bass and Jack de Johnette on drums. A quietly mesmerizing album where Jack weaves dreams around Jarret’s piano musings and Peacock’s silken bass, including a great take on Billy Holiday’s God Bless the Child.
The Wall: Nick Mason’s drumming defines the iconic Pink Floyd album.
Blind Faith: Eponymous outing, with Cream’s Ginger Baker powering his way unconventionally through several classics, including Sea of Joy, Well All Right, Steve Winwood’s Can’t Find My Way Home, Had To Cry Today and Eric Clapton’s In the Presence of the Lord.
I reserve John Bonham for the last. Difficult to escape his pernicious influence and grip. His chops were amazing, and his son is doing a fine job of following in his father’s footsteps. Heavy hitter who redefined drumming forever. I’d pick any of Led Zeppelin’s albums blind, not necessarily the one with Black Dog. In Through the Out Door, for example.