Brain Trust – Stephen Chopek and Chris Lovejoy
Perhaps Transparent 002
The old joke goes:
Q: What do you call a guy who hangs out with musicians?
A: The drummer.
The insinuation that the drummer is a timekeeper rather than a musician very
often holds true. The drums are primarily a foundational instrument, the
slab on which the house is built. The bare bones job description requires
not musicianship but rather an ability to establish and maintain a meter.
In short, the drummer’s job is to, "Just keep the damn beat."
As the percussionists for Charlie Hunter for the past two years, Chopek and
Lovejoy have done much more than that. Often touring with Charlie as a
trio, the two fill all the space around Hunter’s frantic fret work. With
Chopek on the kit and Lovejoy on percussion, the two have become the
eight-limbed octopus of rhythm, off-handedly tapping out fantasmically dense
rhythms. The studio allows them to layer these rhythms even further.
Armed with a rhythmic toy box full of zithers, marimbas, congas, and "metal
stuff", the duo set out to prove a tired joke false with the help of Charlie
Hunter, Billy Martin, and Danton Boller, each of whom join the duo for a
They waste no time, launching the highly danceable rhythms of
"And… Boogie". The changes come quickly as accents are added and removed.
The challenge with strictly percussive music is to maintain the listener’s
interest without melody, which they do by establishing rhythmic themes that
dart in and out of the mix. illy B joins in for "Ming Na" with talking
drum, mbira, and balaphone in tow. These more "vocal" instruments add to
the rich, dense, and highly musical mix. "A Very Knowledgeable Man" brings
that "metal stuff" into play to disconcerting effect, conjuring images of
metal strewn landscapes of devastation.
The results are not always so favorable. "Zithers Brothers" is a bizarre
experience with Chopek’s voice weaving in and out of the mix. "Ultrasonic",
with its wide open spaces, will hold the attention of the rhythmatists while
the others will wander, and the more complex and elastic rhythms of "Black
Angus" will feel like nonsense to many.
Hunter waits a minute before diving in to "Knock Yer Mouth Loose" on bass,
twelve string guitar, and Fender Rhodes. The array of instruments seems too
much, with the over-the-top guitar work burying the nasty bass line beneath. Danton Boller lays out for the opening minute of "Freak Fest" as well,
entering with a series of bizarre effects and noises before settling into a
groove on his upright bass and soloing wildly above it. Neither performance
is astounding, but both emphasize how much a single melody instrument can
add to the groove.
There are stretches of this album that will appeal to all music fans, but
the whole will still be of greater interest to drummers as so much of this
still feels like a rhythmic exercise rather than a song. These two acquit
themselves admirably as musicians, but they reveal the limits of rhythm be
stretching them as they do.