Alchemy is what it’s all about — but it ain’t mediæval voodoo. Building on the research of Jim Payne in his Give the Drummers Some!, Moore lays out the “roots of funk” in the lineage of James Brown drummers: Clayton Fillyau (“I’ve Got Money”), James himself (“Limbo Jimbo”), Nat Kendrick (“Soul Food, Parts 1&2”), Melvin Parker (“Out of Sight,” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”), Jabo Starks (“Jabo”), and culminating in Stubblefield (“Cold Sweat”). He gets deep into Stubblefield’s “I Got the Feelin’ ” — the displaced backbeats, the recurring open hi-hat — “but this time he unveiled his secret weapon: three repeating 16th notes in the left hand with an accent sometimes in the middle.” Demonstrating on the DVD, Moore points out that the result was unequivocal: “When this hit the radio in 1968, people just about lost their minds because they’d never heard anything so funky — of course.”
Of course. The road for Moore wasn’t easy. As a Metairie high-school student, he played in the marching band. “I had a lot of fundamental training, but none of the musicality, none of the grooves.” He was working on classic rock — Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath — “in my own rigid way, I guess,” he says, laughing. But by time he was a high-school senior, he started trying to play some other stuff he’d been listening to: jazz from Miles Davis and John Coltrane, funk from the Meters and Zigaboo. And the Meters became his home base. “Zigaboo was hitting the drums hard and playing grooves and also improvising. I liked the improvisational nature of jazz, but I also had a lot of energy! Especially coming from the marching thing, where you’re trained to really hit the drum, especially if you’re playing snare out in the middle of the field — they teach you how to really wallop it. Coming from that and being really hyperactive, I had a tendency to play really hard. And that didn’t work so great with jazz, but it would work with funk.”
Vidacovich took Moore under his wing, teaching him how to loosen up and get a good flow between “straight eighths” and swing. “It’s what Johnny calls ‘rockin’ the boat,’ which is what gets people dancing.” The Alchemy project — CD, DVD, book — tries to show how each performer builds on the innovations of his predecessors, alchemizing different techniques.
And then there are Moore’s own little innovations. How, for instance, did he come up with that “Wissions (of Vu)” groove? “I was listening to a lot of Wu-Tang Clan at the time and got the idea to improvise over one of their tunes, and then I composed a new tune from the improvisation.”
What was the Wu song?
“Well. I’m not gonna tell you.”
EAST-WEST FUSION: Elvin Jones told Brown that Coltrane brought a shakuhachi back from Japan and “never took it out of his mouth — he’d even play it while he was driving the car.”
Anthony Brown, who brings his Asian American Orchestra to the John Coltrane Memorial Concert on Saturday night, has his own fascinating lineage — a personal heritage that’s become music. The son of an African-American GI and a Japanese office worker who met at an American service club, Brown has spent much of his career replicating that ethnic fusion in his music. Past projects have included Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington. Brown, a drummer and composer, has incorporated various traditional Asian instruments in these arrangements; the idea is particularly effective with Ellington’s Far East Suite.