Moving to his own beat

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Andrew Robinson
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Andrews and trumpeter create CD 'Rock Music'

Patrick Boyle, left, Curtis Andrews, and Don Ellis pose at Ellis' St. John's-bsed studio. Andrews, a native of Carbonear, and Boyle recently released a new CD of improvised music called Rock Music.

Carbonear — Carbonear native Curtis Andrews is addicted to making beats. Since graduating from Carbonear Collegiate in the mid-1990s, Andrews has devoted most of his life to his passion for drums, and he continues that love affair with his latest release, “Rock Music.”

Far from being rock music in the traditional sense, the album was recorded by Andrews and trumpeter Patrick Boyle in St. John’s with recording engineer Don Ellis in July 2007. Over two days, the pair recorded oodles of improvisations featuring Boyle soloing over Andrews’ constantly evolving rhythms.

“We play together a lot of times in different groups,” says Andrews of his musical collaboration with Boyle, who also plays some bass and gajda, a Croatian bagpipe instrument, on the album. “We get along really well, and over the years we’d do duets at different times, improvising duets.”

While the recording was made in 2007, it was only last year Andrews got around to sorting through the tracks and editing the improvisations into shorter pieces.

“I took the best elements and isolated those, or dropped off parts that went too long, and did a little bit of editing,” says Andrews. “What you hear is what we did, and now it’s out finally, which is awesome.”

The pair obtained funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council to release the CD, which is packaged in a cardboard sleeve — an environmentally friendly option, adds Andrews.

Musically, the album has a strong jazz influence, which owes much to Boyle’s trumpet playing. Combined with some of Andrews’ exotic use of percussion instruments and his tendency to draw upon musical influences spanning the globe, some of the funkier numbers recall a more stripped-down version of famed jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ jazz-fusion experiments in the 1970s.

Many of Davis’ recordings used percussion instruments not often associated with jazz music, as does this album. Like Davis, Boyle is also not afraid to electronically enhance the sound of his trumpet.

However, the duo also dabbles in more abstract, avant-garde territory, creating mysterious soundscapes where the origin of sound is often unclear.

The album is dedicated to Ed Blackwell and Don Cherry, a drum-and-trumpet pair who made several duo recordings in the ’60s and ’70s, often drawing upon influences near-and-far to create music with a strong international flavour.

Tying in with the album’s title, all tracks are named after communities across Newfoundland and Labrador, including Lawn, South Dildo, Flatrock, and Spread Eagle.

“We started giving names to the improvisations we’d done that sort of, maybe, sounded like that place, or other times, we’d come up with the name first,” says Andrews.

Studied in Africa and India

Andrews has studied percussion in Africa and India, and along the way he’s become familiar with a variety of exotic percussion instruments. On “Rock Music,” he uses calabash water drums, which are musical bowls that create a “pure tone.” Andrews recorded them in a bathroom during the sessions.

Andrews also used his African boba drum, which he describes as being the size of a big barrel, with antelope skin on the top. The listener can also hear congas, hand and finger cymbals from India, a fire bell he may have borrowed on a long-term basis from York University, and a mechanical bird.

The accumulation of so many percussion instruments speaks to Andrews’ passion for drumming.

“Rhythm is the prime factor in life,” says Andrews.

“It’s natural for one to gravitate towards that. What makes some people more inclined towards it is a feeling, or the joy, I guess, you get from engaging yourself in rhythmic activity. Drumming and the exploration of rhythmic cultures, which I like to do, puts you in a deeper connection with (rhythm). It’s fun to hit things.”

Andrews, who splits much of his time between the island and British Columbia, will soon be travelling to India to continue his studies of classical Indian drumming. Then in April, he will be leading a group of rhythm enthusiasts to the West African country of Ghana. There, the group will spend three weeks in a village studying drumming and dancing. It will be his second such trip, following a successful journey last April.

Andrews’ says “Rock Music” will soon be available in mp3 form on iTunes, while physical copies of the album can be purchased at Fred’s Records in St. John’s.

The Compass

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, York University, West African The Compass

Geographic location: Carbonear, India, Africa Newfoundland and Labrador Spread Eagle British Columbia Ghana

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