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Thursday, June 8, 2023

Devin Gray - Most Definitely (Rataplan, 2023)



Something that is striking, though subtle, about Devin Gray's latest recording, a solo drum with electronics outing, is the attention to visual detail. With few exceptions, from the digital music perspective, artwork has gotten the short end of the stick, but here, each track has a different piece of imagery associated with it. Some are abstract, some figurative, while others remix elements and shapes in different permutations, each seems as purposefully chosen and precise as each track's sonic detail.*

That's kind of the thing right? A solo drum record really benefits from absorbing itself in details. Feel, of course is one part,  but more maybe so is how the patterns arranged and played. Now, add the pre-programmed digital elements and the patterns grow more complex, the details in how they interlock with the acoustic elements even more important. Gray has obviously thought hard about how the two elements interact and in the end has created an intriguing and visceral blend.

The album begins with a few short tracks. 'Hunker Down' kicks off with a quiet but urgent clatter of cymbals and a low frequency rumble. Here, one can hear the layers but by the second track, "Pull to Refresh," they have merged, Gray's acoustic hits and rolls enveloped in the electronics. "Bad WiFi" continues the trend, this time with intentional interruptions that suggest a bad connection indeed. The title track is built around a polyrhythm with the electronics adding a depth and sometimes a blur to the sound. Now, listen closely to hear how extended percussive techniques blend with slight effects (track 12, the delightfully named 'Doom Scrolling'), or none at all, like the follow up 'Only the Poets (for Daniel Levine) in which an austere drum roll grows more complex, underscored with a simple bass drums (Levine was a musician and collaborator of Gray's who tragically passed away last year).

Most of the tracks are short, one to two minutes, but two towards the later half of the recording clock in at around the 20 minutes mark. The first, "Solider On, Milford," starts with a bit of clatter but builds quickly in structure and momentum. Gray covers the drum kit, bringing the energy to a peak at about the halfway minute mark and then continues to builds the tension through a brief scrape with exploratory sounds to an ever higher level. The other epic, "Tough Love," takes a more textured approach, and over the span of the track, Gray frames his extended, effected cymbal work with fine textured cushion of space.

In the liner notes, Gray writes, "listening is the most important form of communication we have, its effects are greater than speaking. You will learn more by allowing yourself to be truly open, focused, and by challenging your everyday listening beyond what your ears and mind are capable of comprehending"

This is absolutely spot on. A solo percussion album can be a hard sell, but Gray hits all the right notes here, giving us something to listen to that goes beyond expectations of a solo percussion. Weaving his precise drumming deftly with an assortment of effects and live electronics to craft a modern, well, balanced, personal and engaging album.

* Though the focus here is on the digital version, Most Definitely is also available on CD and LP - which also feature the same attention to details, booklets, color vinyl - and are in quite limited editions of 50 each.