Distillation of the Groove
Distilling the groove to it’s basic essence is a form of profound drumming meditation. This is the alchemy of drumming. Turning base elements into gold. This is what hit records were all about before the drum machine. In the drumming meditation groups that I teach around the country and the world, the basic pattern gets set up. It is always different. This is the first departure from traditional African drumming or Afro Cuban where the drummers build off of a set piece where everyone knows their parts and the leader solos. Instead, what happens in the drumming meditation groups is that everyone listens to the mixture of drumming that starts to coalesce around the downbeat pulse. The temptation is to solo over this but what can happen is that everyone starts to play less….When I listen to what is being attempted by the drummers in the group I keep the steady downbeat that I have chosen then I subtract notes, little by little until the bare essence of the groove is propelling the group along. Many people do not realize that I am playing very little because they are entranced with their own creative ideas that are being stimulated by this foundation groove that is solid and predictable; perfect for soloing over. But eventually someone comes out of their imagined rock star dream and sees that I am not soloing like everyone else.
“Come on, Buddy! Show us something!” is the inevitable response from the erstwhile bangers. I will sound off and mess with their heads and what invariably happens is that the groove is lost. They can’t stay on the basic pattern because they never picked it up at the beginning of the group. So I can only “show off” for a few bars and then settle back into the basic groove so that everyone else can stay together. I don’t really mind doing this because it makes everyone a better drummer if they listen and share the downbeat and stay out of their ego. This subtraction approach to groove meditation drumming is not really part of most drummer’s mentality. The assumption is that they play as many notes as possible therefore they are great drummers. Just the opposite is the truth. The great drummers play very little in a group in order to hold the basic safe sacred space for the dance and the inspired improvisation that stimulates the groove instead of usurping it. The rhythm and blues drummers of the previous eras knew how to maintain a simple pattern, which enabled the vocalist to express the emotions of the lyrics in fresh ways every time the song was performed. This is what makes great R n B always alive. For instance Al Green’s famous drummer, Al Jackson maintained such a minimum groove that the rest of the arrangements of horns, B3 Hammond organ, etc. had plenty of room to support Mr Green’s angelic vocal interpretations of the lyric. By support, I mean that they accent and underpin the emotional expressions that the singer implies with the words or even just a yelp or even a full voiced scream like in James Brown’s incredible band. B.B. King has been a master off this minimal groove playing for half a century. I adopted this style of drumming while playing the drum set with greats like Charlie Dechant and Tim Buckley. I intuitively sensed that they needed a stable authoritative but not overbearing groove pattern that they could use as a platform for their improvisations as in Tim Buckley’s cosmological vocalizations or in Charlie’s inspired saxophone improvisations. When the soloist can trust the rhythm section to be steady and supportive and sensitive to their spontaneous creations, then the soloist soars to new heights of inspired music. This is what people put their money down to hear. In a drumming meditation workshop, I will play in the same manner only here the soloists are usually beginners and do not know that they are experiencing an impeccable rhythmic groove; they just feel the joy and bang away. This is okay for me, although I miss the great moments with great musicians, but their egos can get to be too much if they think that they are great solely on their own, even without a great rhythm section to back them up. So I encourage the beginners to develop their ears so that they can experience the deep profound effect of a meditation groove.
Excerpt” “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2014 all rights reserved