in performance: terry bozzio/tom shelley

terry bozzio.

“Now, let’s see what kind of trouble I can get into,” said Terry Bozzio as he sat down to the drums for a clinic that played out much more like a performance last night at the Okeika Shrine Temple.

If you were even remotely familiar with Bozzio’s performance abilities in rock and prog circles over the past four decades, which have mixed arena rock intensity with scholarly precision, then you had to hope the unsuspecting diners at a Shriners soup bean supper in an adjacent room liked percussion. They were about to get a blast of it that bordered on the atomic.

But the four solo drum pieces Bozzio conjured were most decidedly not drum solos. In other words, they were devoid of the usual rock star showmanship. Instead, the works were compositional in structure and often wildly harmonic in execution.

The first piece opened patiently with a light chatter of cymbals that served as a processional for a groove that briefly flirted with rhumba before settling into an unassuming rockish stride. The second worked off of passages of cymbal-free thunder that created orchestral-like textures. The third constructed a jazz ostinato under melodies with revolving door time signatures, resulting in a playfulness that recalled a very different musical timekeeper (in temperament more than tone) – Dave Brubeck. The fourth (and wildest) had Bozzio soloing over a tight, volcanic Latin groove that sounded like a prog variation.of Santana’s Jingo.

Bozzio later teamed with Tom Shelley, who opened the evening with more overtly clinical snippets of shakers, congas, sleigh bells, gongs and more played live over pre-recorded tracks (ranging from Miami Sound Machine to Gangham Style).

The resulting duet was essentially a suite, a continuous composition (none of the pieces were presented with titles) that moved from a free jazz-style prelude of bells and cymbals to a neo-funk shuffle to a rockish groove punctuated like a chant. During the later, Shelley stuck exclusively to congas as Bozzio built the piece into a lather of dizzying solo runs layered over a lean brutish rhythm.

Best of all, Bozzio’s performance stance was refreshingly disarming. As the evening progressed and the music grew more complex and physically involving, the drummer’s smiles broadened. Away from the formal concert stage and untethered by anything that resembled a traditional rock band setting, he played with a clarity that was muscular but still profoundly playful.

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