Chances are you’ve already heard Chris Dave. He’s one of the top session drummers of his generation – performing live and in studio with artists such as D’Angelo, Justin Bieber, Adele, Thundercat and Robert Glasper Experiment, all the while carving out a unique and oft-imitated style. Chances are, too, you’ve heard many of his Drumhedz – totaling almost 50 on this album, far too many to mention individually. They’re all at the very top of their game too, performing either as in-demand session musicians or as emerging stars in their own right. “I never knew what it was going to sound like when we all got together,” says Chris. “But I could picture it, like, ‘This album is gonna take place in a portal. You’re getting away from Earth, from all the bullshit. You’re safe, but now you’re in our world.'”
Chris Dave started performing in a Houston church in the 1980s. His father, also a drummer, exposed him to jazz legends such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane from a young age. The combination of these aspects of his early life shine through brightly at various intervals throughout the album. The church influence is most evident in the form of short, lighthearted skits at the end of tracks such as “Dat Feelin'”, “Spread Her Wings”, “Lady Jane” and “Cosmic Intercourse”, the latter of which is comical in its gospel-style preaching regarding the selling of sweatshirts. A heavy Miles Davis Second Great Quintet influence is most notable in the wah-wah effected performances of acclaimed trumpeter Keyon Harrold. Harrold is so renowned for his Davis-like style and delivery that he was chosen to supply all trumpet parts for the soundtrack to Don Cheadle’s 2015 film Miles Ahead.
“Rocks Crying” sets the scene for the album with an atmospheric soundscape featuring a countdown and sampled clips interspersed with tom drums and organ stutters. A dark groove soon locks into place. Chris Dave‘s trademark, subtly displaced playing style suddenly becomes evident on the next track, “Universal Language” – a P-Funk-esque song featuring a plethora of vocal talent. “Dat Feelin'”, a single featuring SiR and Tiffany Gouche, offers a seamless flow-on from the preceding track. “Black Hole” features dissonant, effected horns over upbeat, afrobeat drumming. A cheeky guitar riff in fourths provides support for the fast-paced vocal stylings of man of the moment, Anderson .Paak. “2n1” acts as somewhat of an interlude, showcasing some impressive, impeccable jazz guitar noodling by Isaiah Sharkey. “Spread Her Wings” is a spaced-out, RnB-tinged ballad with soulful vocals provided by Tweet (aka Charlene Keys) and Bilal. “Whatever”, a sparse, double jazz guitar track with hip hop drums, calls to mind the core ensemble’s work with D’Angelo on his outstanding 2014 album Black Messiah.
The Drumhedz “slow it down” on “Sensitive Granite”, a comparatively underdeveloped track in 5/8, which seemingly serves just to highlight Chris Dave’s drumming chops – his snare arriving between beat three and four in the first half, then on the four in the second half. “Cosmic Intercourse” reinforces the interstellar theme through its vocoder-effected vocals and with a series of disorienting, high pitched sounds. It’s a rosy, experimental pop song which while fine, ultimately pales in comparison to the rest of the album. “Atlanta, Texas” returns to a dark place recalling the album opener, with the band playing in unison. “Destiny N Stereo” served as another single, with Elzhi, Phonte Coleman and Eric Roberson providing vocals over a deceptively uneasy, albeit steady beat.
Anderson .Paak and SiR return for “Clear View”, a track which builds to a crescendo over the course of a minute and a half, before blossoming into a powerful, emotive song during its chorus. It locks into a different feel altogether for its outro. “Job Well Done”’s tubular-resonating, frenetic intro sounds somewhat like Flying Lotus meets Space Invaders, before it snaps into an easy going groove, with Chris Dave‘s drumming lulling you into a false sense of security, occasionally mixing things up in superb style. “Lady Jane” is a brooding instrumental piece which enters Sun Ra territory at the start with spacey sounds which are soon overtaken by elegant piano and guitar broken chords. The bridge creates the sensation of time being stretched with Memory Man-effected piano. Finally, “Trippy Tipsy” sounds like an all-out jam which threatens to derail.
Bringing together such an immense number of America’s current crop of world-class musicians runs the risk of them each trying to out-muscle each other, leading to it sounding like cosmic slop. But on the contrary, with their highly enjoyable self-titled debut, Chris Dave and the Drumhedz prove an interstellar melding of musical worlds can be delivered with finesse.