Music

Buddy Rich: The Solos

As the title implies, this is nothing but drum solos from one of the greatest drummers of all time. Even if the notion turns you off, the album itself will prove mesmerizing.


Buddy Rich

The Solos

Label: Lightyear
US Release Date: 2014-05-13
UK Release Date: 2014-05-12
Amazon
iTunes

To modern listeners, the name Buddy Rich may well not have nearly the resonance it did with the audiences captured on these live recordings from 1976-77. Contemporarily, Rich is perhaps better known for a certain verbal tirade delivered on a tour bus, post-show, to a clearly shocked band, surreptitiously recorded as the virtuoso drummer explored a variety of expletives and disparaging terms for the members of his backing group. Having made the rounds on the Internet after years on the bootleg circuit, these recordings painted Rich as an uncompromising tyrant with a decidedly short fuse -- something he was often admittedly known for -- though rarely in as public a setting as afforded by the infamous bus tapes. While certainly cementing the legend, those tapes have also somewhat overshadowed the memory of what was truly an exceptional talent driven to perfection and accepting nothing less, from both his bands and himself.

These nine solos show Rich as a master of control and technique, maintaining a rock-solid tempo while employing a wide array of polyrhythms and fancy stick work that often gives the impression of a small battery featuring myriad limbs flailing about rather than a mere four. When pressed to listen closely, it can become nearly impossible to single out exactly what is going on at any given moment, due to the sheer speed with which Rich attacks his kit. From a visual standpoint, much of this must have come across as little more than a blur of frenetic motion that, while controlled, seemed to lack any sort of rhyme or reason, defying the notion of what the human body was capable of, each limb seemingly functioning with a mind of its own to create the appearance of a larger ensemble.

While undoubtedly exhausting over the course of an hour plus, there is certainly an exhilarating musicality that comes with Rich’s approach. When the band comes in hot at the tail end of “Solo 1”, you almost forget that you’ve been listening to eight straight minutes of nothing but solo drums, taken almost completely out of their original context. More than anything, this serves as a tribute to Rich and his highly influential, idiosyncratic approach to his instrument, pushing the limits of both the kit and himself with relative ease and to the delight of the audiences collected here.

As the album progresses, the sheer variety of approaches to the solo becomes astounding, as Rich displays a seemingly bottomless well of ideas, one flowing seamlessly to the next, creating as distinct and fiery a solo voice on his instrument as that of Coltrane. With an alternately aggressive tumbling and highly restrained, nimble approach to his drum solos, Rich easily puts any rock drummer to shame with the force and control with which he attacks his kit again and again and, in the process, raises the bar for what could and should be expected from jazz drummers.

With “Solo 2”, it’s as if the band, despite their undeniable skill and tightness, is struggling just to keep up with Rich as he races through a number of ideas that push the boundaries of comprehension, exploring innumerable rhythmic combinations across the whole of the kit. His utilization of his sticks alone, against the rim of his kit, has to be heard to be believed and, judging from the audience’s uproarious reaction following a particularly virtuoso passage, proved quite a visual spectacle as well.

Throughout, the control on display with his rolls on the snare drum are simply unbelievable as he routinely crescendos and decrescendos to absurd volumes at both ends of the sonic spectrum while still maintaining an impossibly tight, precise roll that seems to defy conventional logic, all the while exploring various off-beats on the other elements of the kit at his disposal.

On “Solo 3”, recorded at Disneyland in 1977, a raucous crowd giddily urges Rich on to ever greater virtuosic heights as he whips them into a frenzy with his blazing speed and impeccable control. By far the most vocal response Rich receives on this particular series of recordings, it seems more than appropriate from a crowd surrounded by a slightly surreal theme park. Rich does little to disappoint and, nearly 40 years later, the excitement is still palpable.

At 11 minutes in length, “Solo 5”, recorded in Germany in 1977, provides Rich with ample opportunity to stretch out, exploring each piece of his kit in detail and giving each a vigorous workout. Throughout, he shows off an unparalleled dynamic palette that alternates from pianissimo to forte with ease, as if one were simply turning a volume knob on the recording rather than controlling each move with impeccable precision.

Due to the varying degrees of fidelity across the tracks, it can be a bit jarring when the horns do come in as the mix is certainly, and rightly so, designed to favor the drums. Often sounding a bit compressed and blown out, the other instruments serve more as a reminder that there were other people on stage at the time of these exceptional performances, and to provide some minimal contextualization rather than adding anything of note to the proceedings.

An exhausting, highly enjoyable immersive listening experience, one would run out of superlatives to describe Rich’s innumerable solo ideas collected here on The Solos long before he himself would run out of ways in which to execute them. Even if you have no experience with drums whatsoever, these recordings will leave you breathless in their brilliance. A true master on full, phenomenal display.

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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