The power of the drum

Larry's McDonald's Drumquestra
Review by Mark Lyndersay
published on The Woodshed.

To talk about Larry McDonald’s Drumquestra, I’m first going to have to explain another, very different album, recorded by a skilled, passionate sessionman who believed in his instrument.
That album, Dennis Coffey’s Evolution (1971), was created out of the same obsessive focus on a single instrument. Coffey, a talented but otherwise invisible guitarist with the Motown session band The Funk Brothers, created a hit with the instrumental Scorpio, which used artfully distorted guitars to create an orchestral sound for the piece.

Like Coffey, McDonald is a skilled session musician with impeccable credentials, performing with the top tier of reggae’s royalty, including Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer.
Larry McDonald’s instrument is the drum and with 40 years (some references suggest he’s been working for 50) to plan Drumquestra, he’s gone Coffey one better, replacing not just the lead instruments, but every note and tone on the album with drums of every conceivable type, including, on at least one song, rocks.

None of this is something you’re likely to be thinking about while you’re listening to the album, though. It is a drum focused album in terms of sound, but not overwhelmingly so. The only song that speaks directly to McDonald’s love for his instrument is ‘Drums Say,’ which plays like a percussion-driven tone poem under a slow, steady rap by Ras Tesfa.

On other more mainstream songs like ‘Head over heels,’ featuring Brooklyn’s Dollarman (Easy All Stars) the conceit of the album is virtually invisible. On Head over heels, a deep rich Funde drum played by Delroy Williams anchors an old school reggae beat while bells, vibraslap and vibes fill the sound with a rich range of clicking, popping sounds.
You don’t have to take my word for it,
listen to it on the RCRD LBL website, which has a copy of the song, released as the first single from the album.

‘Set the children free’ is a straight ahead almost radio-friendly R&B song full of conscious goodness, with Toots Hibbert contributing soulful wails over the driving beat.
McDonald’s production stretches the essential idea in several different directions. Some of the songs make use of modern drum programming techniques while two of the songs, ‘World Party’ and the ‘rocks’ track on ‘Mento in 3’ were recorded in a cave, Jamaica’s Green Grotto in Runaway Bay, a limestone hideaway once used by escaped slaves. On ‘Backyard Business’ the drumming by Bongo Shem and the New Creators was recorded in, and I am quoting here, “Neville ‘Pele’ Smith’s backyard in St Thomas, Jamaica.”

Throughout the album, the spirit and energy of the drummer driving this production is what you will hear. Not just the sound of the drum, but the feel of it, the earthy, natural aura that Larry McDonald has lived with all of his professional career and has worked hard to translate into a recorded sequence of discrete songs for his first album.
After contributing to so many recordings, McDonald clearly has some definite ideas about the role of the drum in bringing natural vibes into music and he puts his theses into practice throughout his 15 track album.

After decades of putting the pulse into the music of others, including luminaries such as Gil Scott Heron, Jackie Shannon and Bad Brains, he offers his own voice on Drumquestra and it’s an assured, if quirky offering, intimately tied into his love for the rhythm and language of the drum and he never loses the beat.
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