[4 August 2006]
Drummer and multimedia artist extraordinaire Billy Martin—most well-known as a member of non-trad jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood—has two newish drum releases on his label, Amulet. Instead of gradually building to a furied climax, in Solo Live at Tonic 2002 Martin starts harried and strong and then, over the course of an hour, narrows his compositional focus. At times, Martin’s virtuosity makes the “solo” tag hard to comprehend: “Winding Road to Tree House” seems to be the sound of six hands exploring beats on a variety of percussive surfaces—drums, cymbals, shakers, and a cowbell. It is followed by “Six Grandfathers,” a nine-minute exercise in minimalism featuring birdcalls. Eschewing the traditional trapset, “Flora Aura” is a thumb piano solo which makes good use of the instrument’s resonator and “Coconuts Feeding Birds” lets Martin explore triangles and other high-pitched contraptions with an appealing playfulness and simplicity. These tracks, and the album overall, prove that Martin is much more than the “jazz-funk drummer” he’s often tagged.