While heavily derivative of Weather Report and Steps Ahead, Ron Van Stratum’s Swingin’ In The Swamp still satisfies. This should, however, be no surprise when one considers who this Netherlands born and raised drummer and percussionist has played with. Following studies on classical percussion at the conservatory in Tilburg and jazz drumming at the Maastricht conservatory, both located in The Netherlands, Stratum has worked with artists like Mike Mainieri (founder of Steps Ahead), Jaco Pastorius enthusiast Brian Bromberg, John Beasley, Eric Gale, Andy Middleton, Randy Brecker, Mike Stern and Peter Hermesdorf, among others.
This recording’s history is an interesting one. After working almost non-stop on projects for other artists, Stratum started to write new repertoire for his working band. After inviting a few others to play some on his demo tracks, he was so impressed with what had been recorded he decided to go ahead and make the album completely by himself as composer, drummer, percussionist, producer, sound designer and engineer. The result is a wonderful balance of incredible to-the-walls playing by all involved, exciting compositions, heavy synthesizer sounds and world beats reminiscent of Joe Zawinul and tasteful solos.
Stratum is a solidly focused and incredibly nimble drummer. His work throughout, as well as in solo on the title number, is impressive. His cymbals shimmer and shine on “Mind The Mosquitos” and his snare is so tightly crisp on his tribute to Joe Zawinul “Zawinizm” that he sounds like a combination of a young Billy Cobham and Bill Stewart, able to incorporate new and traditional at the same time. “Heat Factor Seven” is so hot, it’s obviously based on a scale of one to seven.
Stratum passes the good times around liberally throughout the recording. Guitarist Jon Herrington’s solo on “Ode To The Doo Da Day” is so locked-in-the-pocket of the groove you almost can’t imagine how he was able to find time to breathe. Keyboardist Jim Beard plays some stunning piano on the same piece, as well as throughout the disc, and is always one of those performers who you just can’t imagine any project he works on being as good with someone else in place of him. Saxophonist Andy Middleton, along with keyboardist Mike Roelofs, are fleet of finger and steeped in the tradition at the same time as they work the modern side of jazz harmony on “Mind The Mosquitos.” Few artists who have walked the post-Weather Report/Steps Ahead side of the street have succeeded as well as or as completely as Stratum does on this recording.