“Open your mind, close your eyes…”
When looking at the stage at Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom, you can see Chris “Daddy” Dave’s drum kit shining from a distance. There are only two people on Earth that can be identified simply by observing the drum kit and nothing else: one is Neil Peart of Rush, and the other is Dave. His kit was more of a rhythm laboratory, adorned with four snares, a hi-hat with holes covered with a tambourine, spiraled crashes, bongos and a suspended floor tom. Dave’s services have been a coveted commodity for several artists including Mint Condition, Meshell Ndegeocello and Toni Braxton. He also proves to have a golden touch as well. He’s been a drummer on three Grammy winning albums since 2010: Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night, Adele’s 21 and, most recently, Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio. Over the years, Dave has nurtured a band in his own image, The Drumhedz, featuring a revolving door of collaborators. On this night, his band consisted of legendary bassist Pino Palladino, electric guitarist Isaiah Sharkey and saxophonist/flautist Kebbi Williams. Playing what Dave called “a live audio mixtape,” the crowd was treated to a three-dimension shuffle playlist.
Kicking off the night was a funky cover of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” The mid-tempo treatment of the song, highlighted by Sharkey’s slurpy guitar work, gave the standard the Slum Village treatment; that is until Dave and Co. started initiating some sudden, drastic tempo changes. This led, quite seamlessly, right into the frantic groove exercise that is “Actual Proof,” a standout track from Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters band. The chemistry between Dave and Palladino was sublimely combustible—not surprising considering Palladino’s frequent turns in the Drumhedz and both their presence in D’Angelo’s latest road band.
The exploratory nature of Dave was prevalent in his band mates as well. On original compositions like “Main Stream,” Williams played his tenor through a scary distortion filter, sounding almost like he’d thrown razor blades into the bell of his sax. Sharkey’s guitar work during the entire set, especially during his designated solo, ranged from ultra-languid touch of a George Benson to the funky scratch of a Pete Cosey. The juxtaposition of J Dilla’s “Welcome 2 Detroit” and Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” – the latter featured Sharkey singing – illustrated his six string versatility.
As prodigious as the sum of this dynamic quartet was, it was still clearly Dave’s show. All night, he exhibited an uncanny foundation of control and pocket while perplexing the audience with his rapidly blurry strikes, ticks, crashes and explosions. One second he’s hitting us with a quick latin tinge on the bongos, the next he’s pounding a snare that sounds like a metal garbage can, all the while keeping time on his Swiss cheese hi-hat/tambourine hybrid. During his solo section of the two hour set, he teased fans with two to three bar break beats, then suddenly rumbled his kick with the reverberating crescendo of a geyser about to erupt. No more was his talent on full display than during Fela Kuti’s “Zombie.” While Williams and Palladino rammed the melody over the crowd’s heads, Dave keep their feet moving, becoming damn near possessed by the kindred spirit of Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen, however he still managed to throw in his idiosyncratic echo effects and wonky crash cymbal rivets.
Dave, like no one else, extracts tones from his drums that you don’t associate with drums. In a time when anything different is met with a tremendous amount of hype and hyperbole—causing overzealous, vocabulary challenged critics to call people geniuses within two listens and an eye blink—this statement is said with complete and definitive objectivity and historical context: Chris “Daddy” Dave is doing to the drums what Hendrix did for the guitar, Roy Ayers did for the vibes and what Coltrane did for tenor sax—he’s dissolving the boundaries and illuminating the instrument’s limitless possibilities. He is the best drummer in the world today. The end.
Giant Steps (John Coltrane Cover)
Actual Proof (Herbie Hancock & the Headhunters Cover)
African Exchange Student
Fred (included elements of Blondie’s “Rapture and Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It”)
Sharkey Guitar Solo
Zombie (Fela Kuti Cover)
Dave Drum Solo
Welcome 2 Detroit (J Dilla Cover)
Hey Joe (Jimi Hendrix Experience Cover)
Stroke Me Down
Relax Your Delf
Cosmic Slop (Encore)
Words by Matthew Allen (@headphoneadditct)
Go to www.chris-dave.com for Chris “Daddy” Dave & The Drumhedz Tour Dates and a free download of their mixtape.