Artist: Pat Mastelotto & Tobias Ralph
Release Date: 2014 June 15
Genre: Progressive / Funk / Groove
License: CC BY-NC
Label: 7d Media
When I decided to check out ToPaRaMa, I didn’t know what to expect beyond a release that was heavily drum based. Obviously Tobias Ralph and Pat Mastelotto are members of The Crimson ProjecKt so they have familiarity with each other’s work. However, whether this would be an extension of their work in the Crimson ProjecKt, or something completely different was unknown to me.
There is one thing that I can say up front: from the very opening track of this release there is one thing that is obvious: these are two drummers that take a an extreme joy in playing, and that joy increases by magnitudes when they are drumming together. And, I was looking for a release that has a lot of joy in it to review for a Friday. So now let’s….
Checking Out ToPaRaMa
Having a background with King Crimson, the primary thing that I expected from this release was polyrhythms. Beyond that, I expected that these were the kind of musicians that would have their chops out on display for all to hear. I was correct on both counts. And, if that’s all this release had to offer I would have likely been quite happy with it as a “here’s an application of everything we demonstrated at the last drumming workshop we did” release. (Hey, I’ve been known to get lost on YouTube for hours watching videos of drummers workshops – especially ones that feature Bill Bruford, Terry Bozio, Neil Peart and other top artists.)
What I wasn’t expecting was the funk, the groove, the ambient, drum-n-bass and experimental parts of this work. And those elements are all over this release. The release opens with ‘Willie’s In The Backyard’ with the pair playing intricately arranged drum parts in sync, a strong opening statement that is exactly what any drum-lover would hope for from this release. However, thirty seconds in there’s a wash of noise behind the drums that gives way to an odd twisting fuzzy-noise melody line (that I am still not certain if it’s a keyboard, or Markus Reuter on touch guitar). This is just a brilliant turn of events, Ralph and Mastelotto keep tehir intricate drum lines going all the way through this piece, while the angular melody twists and turns over the top of it.
However, while the stage has been set for surprises, I didn’t foresee ‘NY5’. It starts with a rather humorous vocal sample from the keyboards, followed by drums entering, only to turn into an drum-n-bass style line, with an electric piano wafting over the top. This is a kind of mellow, laid back tune that reminds me of some of LTJ Bukem’s more jazzy work.
Of course, this release wouldn’t be complete without something directily inspired by King Crimson. And that comes in the form of a re-imagined rendition of ‘B’Boom’, here called ‘BaBaBoom’. And, of course, there are polyrhythms all over this release, a fine example of which is ‘Floor Over Heaven’.
Exploring different cultures is something that I should have expected on a drumming release, but for some reason I didn’t. However, with tracks like ‘Rendezvous With Rama pt1’, ‘OM’ and ‘Sing Sang Sung’ offer the opportunity to explore Indian and African drumming traditions. And if that wasn’t enough, they close out this release with the hillarious Cheech and Chong meets King Crimson track, ‘Bad Ass Van, Man’.
The thing that really helps pull all of this work together is the cast of musicians that contributed to various tracks on this release. These include: Tony Levin, Markus Reuter, Lorenzo Feliciati, David Rothenberg, Roy Powell, Angelica Sanchez, Bernhard Wöstheinrich, Bill Munyon, Leashya Padma-Munyon, and Robert Fisher.
I had the expectation of this being a really good drummers release when I started listening to it. I expected polyrhythms and chops to be full-front and on display. What I didn’t expect was the wide range of musical backgrounds that Mastelotto and Ralph would bring to this release. It’s their wide array of influences that lets them explore drumming in many contexts that many others wouldn’t have considered to explore.
With a large cast of supporting musicians working on the release, Mastelotto and Ralph are afforded the space they need to find the joy of playing in all these contexts. And it comes through as though someone had managed to drop a dump truck of it in your front yard. Let’s hope that they will find an opportunity to explore more contexts and bring the joy of drumming to all of us again.