Jerry Granelli is a Halifax-based jazz drummer, hailing originally from San Francisco. A prodigy, he studied early on with Joe Morello, and moved quickly into professional jazz gigs with big names like Vince Guaraldi– that’s him playing drums for the Peanuts soundtrack – Denny Zeitlin, Charlie Haden, the list goes on. A tireless innovator, he pushed onward into the Haight’s burgeoning psyche scene, participating in cross-disciplinary happenings that went way beyond the boundaries of the traditional jazz that he grew up playing. He pioneered free jazz, toured as an opener with both the Grateful Dead, and Lenny Bruce, and had a group called the Light Sound Dimension (LSD) – it was through that association that Granelli found himself in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In other words, when the “new hotness” is happening, there’s a good chance Granelli’s probably got his hand in it somehow, an ever-shifting trickster-god of forward-thinking music.
This outward-looking attitude saw Granelli soon looking beyond music, and experimenting with eastern mysticism, eventually finding a guru in controversial Tibetan rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa. Granelli eventually found himself teaching both music and meditation at the Naropa Institute Trungpa had founded in Boulder, Colorado. Letting music take a back seat, he became as brilliant and inspirational an educator as he had previously been a drummer. Eventually though Granelli’s passion for music started bubbling back to the surface and he found himself teaching at Seattle’s Cornish institute and getting involved with like-minded musicians like Julian Priester, Oregon, Jane Ira Bloom, Mose Allison and others. He’s moved around a few times – to Halifax along with most of Trungpa’s Vajradhatu community, then to Berlin to teach, and has settled again in Halifax for the time being. Along the way he’s played with a very lengthy list of innovative players – Ornette Coleman, Anthony Braxton, Bill Frisell, Ralph Towner, Buck 65, Jeff Reilly, François Houle, David Tronzo, the list goes on….
I’ve personally seen Jerry do many a lengthy and mind-blowing solo over the years, but the Divorce Records release 1313 marks the very first time Jerry has released an album of solo drums. Hearing the record, one can’t help but marvel at the oversight, and hope that there are more to come: it’s a killer record.
That this is a release not to be dismissed is evident from first glance: it’s a vinyl-only release, with art by Halifax screen printing team Yo Rodeo, and mastered by noise-rock name brand Weasel Walter. Before the music is even mentioned, the ingredients for a paradigm shift are already starting to fall into place.
Then there’s the music: solo drums, no overdubs, largely single-take performances; Granelli is one ballsy motherfucker, and he’s one of the few drummers I can think of with the talent, creativity and musical thoughtfulness to really pull off a full album’s worth of drum solos, and have it come across as a highly-listenable 34-minute composition by a seasoned composer, not as a long boring display of technical prowess by a mere “drummer”.
The album opens slowly with a piece ostensibly inspired by The Art of War scribe Sun Tzu, a gradual build from primordial drones and swooshes into an awakening of cymbals and drums, with ringing bell tones that focus the mind for what’s about to come. Mallets are the next order of business, followed by a Metal theme. “Walking on a raod with some bells around your neck”, the third track, has a gamelan-like quality, starting with a mix of tuned bell patterns on top of a complex bed of multi-cymbal wash. Kicks, snares and tom hits interspersed keep things sounding original: less like a specific tribute to the gamelan, then an organic, living, breathing music under the influence. Further adding to the dynamism of the track, the bells disappear in the last of the three minutes, replaced by hi-hats and drum rhythms. “Wait For The Machine” has an alien soundscape vibe – courtesy of triggered synth sounds – sounds I tend to associate with forward-thinking jazz players like David S. Ware. The album is rock-solid throughout, and ends on a brilliant note with “A Nice Bunch of Guys” – I find it incomprehensible that this is one person playing drums with no overdubs – unless there’s some looping devices at work here – but considering that one person is Jerry Granelli, I suppose anything is possible.
A phenomenal album, and an instant classic, regardless of whether you have any particular interest in the drums; 1313 transcends the notion of “drums” entirely and stands on its’ own as “music”. That said, I’m sure this release had many drummers sitting down for repeat listens, taking notes and learning a great deal about their instrument, its’ potential to function as a solo instrument, as an active agent in the creative process as a whole. Kudos to Divorce Records for having the foresight to make this happen, and to Jerry Granelli for this ear-opening gift of music. Given the success of this collaboration, one can only hope that the partnership continues. If not, given the restless, searching nature of Granelli’s practice – well, at least this brilliant, landmark album has come to fruition. Strongly recommended.