For a period of time last year, Galactic drummer Stanton Moore was simultaneously summoning the past and chasing bits of it away.
Buried well down the program of Stanton Moore’s latest platter lurks a vaguely sinister little number called “Cleanse This House.” A furtive, somewhat skittish Robert Walter piano riff underlies swaths of screeching Will Bernard guitar noise, Walter alternating between the piano line and swirling layers of organ, Moore punctuating the proceedings with snare-slapping and floor-tom certitude.
Good versus evil in 4/4, collapsing, exhausted, into a negotiated settlement. Just like in real life.
Moore tells the backstory behind that tune.
“Robert was staying with us while we were writing stuff for this project … might have been during JazzFest,” he says. “We have a house that’s over 100 years old; it was built in 1896. My wife is very ‘in tune’ in things, and we were just feeling certain things in the house, energy in the house that we wanted to get rid of. So, we decided we wanted to have the house cleansed, and we did that while Robert was staying there.
“And so we did have it cleansed. And after that … the house just feels a lot better; let’s just say that.”
But oddly, the project that he and Walter and Bernard were working on at the time, the CD and multimedia package called Groove Alchemy, was actually reaching back deep into New Orleans’ past. Moore set out to dissect and contextualize the drumming of legendary funk drummers like Clyde Stubblefield, Jabo Starks and Ziggy Modeliste, whose marksman-like, double-jointed drumming styles became the backbone of the Meters’ and James Brown’s genre-defining rhythm sections of the 1960s. But he also wanted to trace their roots even further back in local history to the Mardi Gras Indians’ colorful and usually impolite street revelry, thought to originate well back into the 19th century, and incorporating Native American and African percussive traditions. Yep, funk really is that old.
And while the CD itself is satisfying enough — Moore and Co. serve up trademark greasy funk, bordello lounge, jazzy whiplash rhythm workouts and bottom-of-the-bottle juke balladry — it came as one part of a lengthy and deeply researched project extending several years, culminating in an instructional DVD and book, with the CD as both performance and instructional demo. The groove scene has generally embraced and benefitted from throw-off side projects; this was decidedly not one of them. Moore’s trio has matured into a nimble, focused organism, and he stood back to tee this one up right: conceived and transcribed the beats, charted and rehearsed the music, lined everything up with everything else. He made a CD, then made a DVD about making a CD.
Sounds easy, but it ain’t.
“This was my second book and DVD project,” Moore explains. “The first one, which was Take it to the Street, was all about my approach to New Orleans second line drumming and modernizing it. I recorded all the music for it. I wanted to make it the best that I could, so I got the Dirty Dozen to play on it, and got George Porter Jr. to play bass on a lot of it, and I really dug the way the music came out. So I decided to release that music later, after the book and the DVD had already come out.
“With this project,” Moore continues, “I decided to really get my ducks in a row, and try to release it all at one time. So I got my publisher to interface with my record label and we got it all released together.
“The book and the DVD are looking at the history of groove and funk drumming and some of the innovations that led to the classic beats,” he says.
“And then, taking those processes and learning how to make new grooves out of all that, and putting that into a song.”
There aren’t many drummers of his generation better qualified than Moore to dig this deep into breaking down the maddening intricacies of classic funk drumming, but like most educational projects, Moore readily admits that his first student was … Stanton Moore.
We asked him if it brought a level of self-awareness and drive toward precision that a typical Galactic or Garage A Trois session may not have.
“Yeah, I think so,” he says. “Because I did have to spell out exactly what it was that I was doing and be very specific with it in a way that would make sense to people reading it. But what’s been great about it … is that I feel like it’s really refined my groove and funk playing. And now that I feel like I can get a little more free with it; my playing’s at a higher level now.”
On the Bill
Stanton Moore Trio plays
the Boulder Theater on Friday, Dec. 2. Show starts at 9 p.m.
Supercollider opens. Tickets are $15.50 in advance, $19.25 day of show.
2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.