Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In Praise of Steve Jansen

My "In Praise of..." series is intended to shine the spotlight on artists who, in my opinion, continue to be under appreciated. While not necessarily in any particular order, I feel compelled to write about the artists that I feel A) the most personally geeked about and B) are most deserving of the added attention and appreciation.

     Steve Jansen has been creating unusual drum and percussion rhythms for the likes of Japan, David Sylvian, the Jansen Barbieri Karn ("JBK") trio, Steven Wilson, and solo projects for almost forty years. What makes his rhythm tracks so unusual is that they usually do not pace a song with a typical 4/4 "straight" time  in which bass (kick) drum, hi-hat and snare are the standard time keepers, plus he often refrains from using cymbols or even the hi-hat. (In his live drum set he typically will only have one to four cymbols on his kit. Perhaps he was influenced by Peter Gabriel's third solo album on which Peter asked his drummers to refrain from any use of cymbols.) Steve likes to use tuned toms, sampled sounds, and tuned percussion instruments while sometimes striking his percussives with less typical drum implements (hands, mallets, brushes, etc.)
     I am definitely attracted to drummers/percussionists who are "cursed" with the need to make percussive noises in atypical, even unusual spaces and places which, then, leaves the more typical or usual places for time-keepers to lay "down the beat" some times bare, open, as if implied or assumed. Bill Bruford was the first drummer I ever heard with this gift (or 'curse'?). Steve Jansen was the second.  In the jazz realm it is the music of PAT METHENY and the playing of his many gifted rhythmatists--but especially those of drummer Paul Wertico. OCEANSIZE's Mark Heron is the best modern example of one who is so 'cursed.'
     The effect of being exposed to songs and music with such rhythmatists at play on me as a listener is not only to draw my attention but, for some unexplainable reason, to soothe me. I find the rhythms of these drummers to be extremely comforting. Perhaps it is because whenever I find myself using my hands (or body) 'playing along' with the rhythms of a song I'm listening to I, too, am drawn to accenting the spaces or off-beats of the music's 'natural' or 'straight' times; it is my natural propensity to play off of the straight time or already-present beats.
     One of the elements of Steve Jansen's playing that makes him quite different from other drummers is the slow rolling applications of his sounds as opposed to the flashy quick approach to drumming of most rock and even jazz drummers. His playing might be called 'minimalist' because it leaves a lot of space between the percussive notes--not filling them with the usual battery of cymbol fills, but then I don't think this is how true minimalist music is defined. So, "bare,""sparse,""spacious," and even "ambient" may be more appropriate words to describe his style of playing. Why this is not more imitated is a mystery to me--though the drummers of Graham Sutton's BARK PSYCHOSIS often use a style similar to Jansen.
     I found it quite interesting that Steve Jansen's first (highly acclaimed) solo album, 2007's Slope, contained very little drumming, lots of computer and tuned percussion, and not a lot of his 'trademark' style of rhythms. My suggestion for anyone interested in hearing Steve Jansen at his most amazing best try listening to JAPAN's "Sons of Pioneers" or "Life Without Buildings" (to get a feel for his early propensity for this style), DAVID SYLVIAN's Brilliant Trees or, especially, Words with the Shaman and Gone to Earth albums, anything from JANSEN BARBIERI KARN (1993's Beginning to Melt, 1999's ISM or 2002's Playing in a Room with People) or Richard Barbieri's solo albums (Things Buried in 2005 and Stranger Inside in 2008), 1991's Japan reunion, Rain Tree Crow, and NO-MAN's 2001 release, Returning Jesus. More than anything, I only wish for more people to hear, recognize, and appreciate the musicality and contribution to some great music that Steve has given.

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