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Published: 2006/03/15
by Pat Buzby

Neighbourhood – Manu Katch

Neighbourhood – Manu KatchECM 1896

Mobile – Glenn Kotche, Nonesuch 79927-2

Aside from the similarity of their last names (which I just noticed a minute ago), the only reason for a dual review of Manu Katchnd Glenn Kotche is that both are releasing CDs at around the same time. However, both have been providing important examples for schooled drummers trying to figure how, and how not, to show off their chops. Busy drumming worked for the Who and Jimi Hendrix, but these days it’s seldom heard in rock outside the Rush/Metallica camp — Peter Gabriel and Sting have asked Katchor subtler ideas, while Jeff Tweedy flirts with arty stuff but keeps at least one foot firmly planted in indie rock, calling for Kotche to come up with a style to match. Given the chance to become the center of the show, both drummers give us a more sharply-focused view of what they do in the context of their main gigs Katchives us straight grooves spiced with lots of quick, quiet flourishes dropped in where they’re least expected, while Kotche’s grooves are equally simple but shot through layers of sonic manipulation until they become unrecognizable.

People debating whether Jay Bennett or Jim O’Rourke had more input into Yankee Hotel Foxtrot should check out Mobile. The most recent round of Wilco activity has spotlighted Kotche the rock drummer more than Kotche the percussion experimenter, but Mobile contains many reminders of the interludes between Tweedy’s comments about assasining down the avenue. The closest thing to a typical “drum solo” is “Monkey Chant,” but while John Bonham offered plenty of tribal toms, he would probably never have used friction on a drum head to get sounds resembling dialogue between monkey warlords.

Kotche focuses on small ideas, repeated, mutated and developed into sound experiences with little evidence of percussion. The process is especially clear on the title piece, where what starts out as a chirpy kalimba melody ends up as a thoroughly distorted rock pattern, the drum equivalent of a motive making its way from Bach to Sonic Youth. He spells out the processes of each piece candidly in the liner notes, but sometimes it might be as well not to know “Individual Trains,” for instance, is based on the first drum beat he ever wrote, but sounds like an Eno CD played in a percussion store with the bass cranked up high enough to make the instruments fall off the shelves. The information, though, gives a sense of how much one can find here with repeated listenings start by enjoying the alternately ambient and harsh surfaces, then delve into where each fundamental idea of Mobile shows up in its original form and how it evolves.

Kotche is the only performer on Mobile; Katchs part of a quintet on Neighbourhood. However, Neighbourhood is more like a traditional “drummer’s record.” Katchsquo;s pieces are on the simple side, but each one sets an eerie, quiet mood. He got one of his bosses, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, to lend his familiar if sometimes cloying style to the disc, while pianist Marcin Wasilewski proves himself to be a fine student of the ECM Jarrett/Lyle Mays school of calm, articulate piano.

However, what you notice most is KatchHe is never in the lead role no solos but in each piece the foreground is spare enough not to distract from his grooves and comments. The brushes of “Lullaby,” the dry ride cymbal and sudden tom fills and snare shots of “November 99,” the James Brown patterns of “Take Off and Land” are the central music of the CD. If you’re not a drummer, you might seek out Katchsquo;s sidemen in their leader dates. If you are (I am), you’ll find this a worthy object of study.

Wilco has become the type of band in which every member releases solo albums; the same has also been true of some Gabriel and Sting lineups. Both Mobile and Neighbourhood, like many solo albums, give a lot of what can be found in smaller quantities on the larger group’s offerings, but both work on their own terms, and both have a lot of lessons for drummers, as well as a few for the rest of the world.

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