Percussionist Richie Barshay has a lot of experience for his 23 years -- and a lot of different colors on his sonic palette. He's a funky trap drummer and fluent all-around percussionist, employing tabla, cajon, congas, bells, etc. into his performances with a handful of diverse talents. He's worked with vocalist Sofia Koutsovitis, the Klezmatics, and an Afro-Caribbean group sponsored by the US State Department called Insight. He joined Herbie Hancock back in 2003. Secret Society ringleader Darcy James Argue has also called on Barshay, having met the young drummer as a teenager. Recently, he's been tapped for Kenny Werner's European tour. Barshay was 21 when he recorded his debut Homework, and it fulfills every bit of promise a young player could show.
In a press release, Barshay notes that Homework is not so much a jazz date with Indian influences as the other way around: "Instead of using the mother tongue of jazz as the foundation, we're putting the foreign influence first." And the songs aren't mere vehicles for blowing but pieces of a well-crafted aesthetic. One of the music's most important characteristics is rhythmic structure:
These songs are odd meter-infused pieces but they are very long rhythmic cycles, not just 'Let's play a tune in five or seven.' It was more, 'Let's take this composition that lasts 32 or 64 beats and you have a bar of four, a bar of five or seven within it… Most of these rhythms take a very long time for the cycle to come around, and they serve a bigger picture. That is the Indian influence, and it's predominant on the record.This quote probably only means something to musicians, but it's definitely meaningful to the music. On "Peacock," Barshay's approach is detectable even before he begins speaking the syllables that accompany Indian drumming, and he gives a similar treatment to the sax-tabla duet version of Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle." The rhythmic pattern (tukra) is the foundation for their improvisations.
"Return Voyage" sounds a bit more overtly exotic with Josh Feinberg's sitar and the leader's tabla, but Daniel Blake's gentle, husky tenor suits the piece just as well. He's also pure-toned and flexible on his soprano features. The eerie, airy minor-key "Clouds" is a high point for Blake's dexterous, fluttery tenor and Herbie as well, who plays on several tracks throughout. He also lends some Headhunters-era keyboard presence on the album's title cut along with a typically lyrical, thoughtful piano solo. And in case anyone thinks young players are too eclectic to swing, "The Last Gasp" should put that notion to rest. Bassist Jorge Roeder and Barshay have a spirited conversation, and the leader's fiery dialogue with Blake shows some clear chemistry.
And for the drum purist/enthusiast, there's a seven-minute bonus track of a live 2005 drum solo. Barshay himself, though, is proudly not a purist. His setup has the standard pieces as well as Indian drums and percussion -- perhaps an apt metaphor for his overall concept. He draws influences from a number of musical worlds and marries them in new ways with creativity, virtuosity and great taste.
Richie Barshay (drums, percussion)
Aoife O'Donovan (vocals)
Daniel Blake (soprano sax, tenor sax)
Michael Winograd (clarinet)
Josh Feinberg (sitar)
Carmen Staaf (accordion)
Herbie Hancock (piano, keyboards)
Jorge Roeder (bass)
Reinaldo de Jesus (percussion)
The World (great interview focusing on his tabla background)
YouTube (some jam session footage and cajon work with Sofia Koutsovitis)