Michael Shrieve’s Spellbinder- Live at ToST.
Music ripples from one musician to another, like jungle drums, the architecture of music is disseminated against the current and the music passed on but not over. The true musician is a servant of all he has been and heard and seeks to develop his craft within these walls and also to break down these walls.
Within a drummer like Michael Shrieve, lies a host of influences, the personalities and names are revelatory, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, Chico Hamilton, Papa Jo Jones, Buddy Rich, on the funkier tip, see Mike Clark, Bernard Purdie, David Garibaldi, Dennis Chambers, Stubblefield, Jabo Starks and others who have played in James Brown‘s bands and for Latino there is Mike Carabello, Chepito Areas, Armando Peraza, the list is endless, a veritable who’s-who of American and world drummers, that all serve to become a melting pot, upon which Shrieve has modelled and built his craft.
For pointers to “Spellbinder” and musical cross-referencing, seek out the mystical “Sangam” by saxophonist Charles Lloyd (released on ECM in 2006 and meaning flowing union or confluence). It is a live dedication to the late drummer Billy Higgins. It features the tasteful hand percussion and drumming of Zakir Hussein and Eric Harland and on some of the tom-tom work, both Harland and Shrieve could be calling to each other across different recordings. Drummers as “sound seekers” as Charles Lloyd would put it. Dreaming dreams that are far more uplifting than the world’s problems.
Michael Shrieve has been a totemic presence in modern American music for nearly four decades. From his early groundbreaking work with the Santana band, with whom he worked up until the Borboletta recording in 1974, to further projects encapsulating the commercial (Automatic Man, Novo Combo, Mick Jagger solo, Abraxas Pool) to more below-the-radar work both live and in the studio.
Since then his work has been plentiful, both mainstream and the more difficult to find. Perhaps, of all the original Santana members he has dedicated himself to a more esoteric search for musical meaning and exploration. His latest release is culled from a live recording made in February 2008, during his group Spellbinder’s, Monday night residency at ToST in Seattle, Washington, nearby to where Michael resides currently. Spellbinder is the second combo Shrieve has formed since his residence in Seattle. Tangletown was the other group, which had (although unreleased) great potential, if the recordings “African Woman, “Baila Mi Cha Cha,” “Natasha,” and “One” are anything to go by. Tangletown were the nearest thing to a Santana world band style, Shrieve has attempted outside of Abraxas Pool.
The Spellbinder CD itself is missing the “title” track, which gives the group its name and inspiration, simply called “Spellbinder.” From the same-titled recording by Gabor Szabo, who was based in San Francisco’s Bay Area at the time and released in 1966 on the Verve label, it featured the Hungarian Szabo’s brilliant guitar flurries, over the percussion team of Willie Bobo and Victor Pantoja on drums/timbales and congas respectively.
This recording also featured “Gypsy Queen,” which was an integral part of Santana’s Abraxas first side suite, as a coda to “Black Magic Woman.” This live cut has been up on You Tube from Shrieve’s band but doesn’t appear on the live recording.
Shrieve tells of Gabor’s influence on the young Santana, “We all loved those great Gabor Szabo records. Carlos was very influenced by Gabor, and I was very influenced by Chico Hamilton on those recordings as well. A lot of the cymbal work I did on the Santana records was derived from Chico’s playing on Gabor’s records like “Spellbinder.” Michael Carabello was very influenced by Victor Pantoja, who played congas on that record. Well, obviously, I named my new group Spellbinder and we play that song too!”
Shrieve comments, “If there is Santana material that I had something to do with that neither Carlos and Gregg are doing in their bands, and I liked the song and the way I played on it, then I will consider doing it in Spellbinder. I want to get back to playing drums the way I played on those songs. More like the jazz side of Santana, if you will. We’ve changed the arrangement of “Every Step of the Way”… right now we are doing it pretty much without the whole first section.”
The CD is served by a rich and ambient sound. It is I feel, a piece that works best listened to and not accompanied by the live video shots that have appeared on You Tube. It is an atmospheric collection of seven tracks, which starts with Shrieve looking to his Santana back catalogue for the opening cut, “Every Step Of The Way”. Every Step features the sweeping Hammond B3 organ vamps from Joe Doria that Gregg Rolie previously added to the first version on Caravanserai but also features strong, delirious and keening playing by the guitarist Danny Godinez who follows some of Carlos’ earlier licks but also introduces new and fresh playing of his own. Shrieve plays ride cymbal with the deftness and fluency, he is renowned for but here his playing is softer and with less attack than his “Two Doors” or “Octave Of The Holy Innocents” with Jonas Hellborg recordings of fifteen years ago. “Every Step Of the Way” is extremely atmospheric with superb playing and organ washes from Doria. Shrieve starts the piece with brushes and moves to sticks during the intro section before the main theme. The band take their time to hit the theme with Doria supplying a pumping solo and taking the music further into the ozone is trumpeter John Fricke. All this music is underpinned by the group’s bassist who hails from Uzbekistan, yet another Seattle resident, Farko Dosumov. Spellbinder completists, please note this is a different take to the postings on You Tube.
The CD recording is rich, warm and fans of Shrieve’s drums will not be disappointed at the depth of sound on the kit and the clarity of the cymbal work.
The tune “Flamingo” composed by Danny Godinez appears next and opens with tasty melodic runs from Godinez, before breaking into a funky vamp from the guitarist. The tune is notable for a powerful main theme, which is very catchy, punchy and rousing, really hitting home.
Mike Shrieve plays in a Latinesque vibe, starting out with a crisp hi-hat rhythm before breaking into a rolling cymbal and snare beat. It also features some creamy cliff-hanging Shrieve double stroke rolls on the snare, which are a Shrieve trademark! Doria’s Hammond organ stabs and waves of sound ably punctuate Godinez’s excellent guitar solo. This piece also features out-there trumpet by Fricke who here, brings his solo down into a heavily swinging, muted wah-wah excursion.
Shrieve shows off his deftness as a drum roll player at the beginning of the next piece before leading with a crisp drum roll into the main body of “Moon Over You,” taken from Shrieve’s excellent Stiletto recording, originally released on Novus Records in 1989. Shrieve’s clattering, assured and confident drum poly-pattern with the snares off is a hypnotic and enticing romp through a spacey, Miles Davis-like refrain with a retro Wild Western feel. The piece explodes into a double time part with a manic guitar solo from Godinez, in which he almost goes off the highest register on his instrument. Here the music is a call to Shrieve’s Santana past. Shrieve amplifies this connection by indulging in some razor sharp snare and tom fills that slice through the music and threaten to pull everything apart until Shrieve resolves the time by coming back on the one.
Of further interest here to Santana fans, is a new version of “Jungle Strut,” the Gene Ammons penned vehicle that Shrieve brought to the Santana 3 sessions. It follows the Third album version fairly closely,
both in tempo, arrangement and feel. Shrieve also played this live a few years back with old band mate Jose “Chepito” Areas at a New Monsoon gig at Martyrs, Chicago. Godinez blazes here both adopting both the Neal Schon wah-wah and Carlos guitar parts. Added trumpet flourishes make this a live pressure cooker.
Opening with Shrieve drumming in thunderous tom-tom cascades, with a fugue-like organ from Doria, “Gole Sangem” is a sombre, meditative piece of this set that feels close to the aforementioned “Sangam” by Charles Lloyd. Shrieve started to develop this style of cascading tom-tom fills as far back as Welcome and Borboletta, where tracks like “Life Is Anew” ended with Shrieve using this technique to full dramatic effect, before segueing into the 6/8 funk of “Give And Take” on the Borboletta recording. “Gole Sangem” is a stately walk through lyrical trumpet and guitar flourishes over a deep, penetrating almost funereal rhythm.
“Inside Four Walls’ follows, again featuring a dramatic intro
and chanted vocals or voicing with no lyrics, before moving into “They Love Me from Fifteen Feet Away.” A beautiful fretless bass intro ensues from Farko Dosumov, this is further taken up by Fricke’s trumpet and Godinez’s benevolent, tasteful, bluesy, soaring guitar. This is a superb, electrifying solo from Danny Godinez.
One is waiting for Shrieve to pile on the pressure on the drum kit but he pulls back with his open use of space, creating further tension by keeping the rhythm open and allowing a large soundscape to emerge by not bringing in further backbeat. As drummer with Santana etc, Shrieve always let the music breathe and other soloists or percussionists always had plenty of room to manoeuvre with Shrieve at the drum helm. An impressive Spanish style number to round out this live recording that enjoys clarity of both sound and group dynamics.
From Go, through to Automatic Man, Tangletown, Novo Combo, Abraxas Pool and the Stiletto, Two Doors, Fascination recordings, Shrieve always seems to have the ability to pursue a completely original take on new bands. He also changed or adapted his drum styles accordingly and this CD is no exception.
Total CD Time = 54.80
To round out this review, I asked Michael Shrieve some further Spellbinder related questions……..
(1) At your ToST residency, do you play the same set every week, or is their lots of other material??
Basically we play the same set, but are adding new tunes now. We play “Knives Out” by Radiohead and this works extremely well in our band context. Rhythmically it’s right up my alley and the melody adapts beautifully on the trumpet. We are also working up a few tunes from some of my other solo CD’s as well, right now one each from Two Doors, Fascination, and Stiletto as well.
(2) Why no Spellbinder cut on the CD??
We recorded “Spellbinder” several times but it was always too fast, which is of course my fault! If it’s too fast it sounds hokey and corny musically. The rhythm sounds good fast, but not the music.
(3) It’s a fairly “short” recording, with say 20 minutes left of CD space – why not more music??
It is what it is. I also happen to believe that just because there’s more time available on the CD format, it doesn’t mean you have to fill it. Keep in mind that most of the classic records were around 44:00 minutes. The reason for this is that while cutting vinyl, the most time that you could have on each side of the record was about 22:00 minutes because after that the sound quality suffered. The actual grooves that were cut in the vinyl became not as deep after that amount of time and the sound became thinner.
(4) What is the track “Gole Sangem” about??
Who did it originally??
Gole Sangem or Sangam, there is some question as to the right spelling, is a traditional Persian song that I first encountered while producing a group called The Brothers Baladi. On that recording we used a soprano saxophone for the melody and presented in a way that sounded like Ennio Morricone. I always loved the melody and wanted to do it if the right situation presented itself. With Spellbinder I really wanted to present beautiful melodies as well as “spellbinding” grooves. Ironically, and you can imagine my surprise, when I found out just before the CD was released, Gole Sangem translates to “The Stone Flower” or “the flower that can only bloom from the stone”, because I wrote lyrics to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Stone Flower” and we recorded that song on Santana’s “Caravanserai” 35 years earlier!
(5) “Inside 4 Walls,” who is doing the wailing singing??
Again- why this choice??
“Inside Four Walls” was written by the jazz bass player Marc Johnson and was included on his CD called “Right Brain Patrol”. Again, I’ve always enjoyed this song and the vocal is done in a similar fashion on Marc’s recording and I believe the percussionist on the recording, Arto Tunçboyaciyan, sang that section. The song that comes after it, “They Love Me Fifteen Feet Away” was also on that same recording and was written by Arto as well. I just always liked them and wanted to play them. I’m a big believer in just playing music that you just really like, no matter where it comes from.
(6) They Love me” why this choice by Marc Johnson??
Who is he???
(7) What would you like to achieve with Spellbinder and what are the future plans??
I want to take Spellbinder on the road and play for as many people as possible, and continue making records with the group. That’s the plan.
You are directed here to an excellent and extensive article by Michael Shrieve himself on the Moonflower Café website, which is both in-depth and entertaining.
Tags: Jim Mc Carthy, latin muisc, Live at ToST, Michael Shrieve, Santana, Spellbinder