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Chicago solo-a percussionist's tale

Solo percussion is an intriguing venture, especially at the improvisational level, where it can move beyond music to a state of pure communication. At it’s best, it is a language that tells stories and engages the audience to be participants. So it was with Chicago percussionist Tim Daisy. Daisy is one of the busiest young drummers on the Chicago scene, and rightfully so. He brought a small drum kit, some cymbals and gongs, a few rattles, and a lot of imagination to the basement gallery of Myopic Books.

Basement is the correct term in every sense of the word. Picture a small used book store with row upon row of books crammed onto shelves, the smell of paper and ink thick in the air. You make your way through the narrow isles and down a short set stairs where you find even more books and shelves. After traversing a short maze of isles, you come to the performance space in the back. Lined by shelves of books on the walls, the clear area is set up with various well worn chairs at the front. A dehumidifier carries a warning sign to NOT unplug it for any reason. The cement floor is unlevel, owing to the large cracks and age of the building. The bare lights are strung along a low ceiling giving off a harsh glare that still seems dim among the books. Ah yes, this is the perfect sort of space for magic to happen.

Daisy chooses his sticks and starts out by tapping his gongs and letting them ring, filling the performance space with their vibrations. As much as he plays the notes, he also plays the spaces between the notes. He develops a theme and plays with it, working with the sound textures. He elicits a Gamelan type of sound using both the soft mallet heads and the wooden butts to bring forth a myriad of tonal colors. Moving to the drums he plays a stream of notes, a continuum. It’s a contrast to the more open notes he played on the gongs. Taking a string of bells in one hand and a shaker in the other, he plays them in the air, while accenting with his bass drum. He then plays them across his drums, creating swirls of sound, like a forest wind stirring up the leaves. He is a shaman pulling us all into his rhythmic trance.

Switching to sticks, things become more stacatto on the drums and cymbals. The sound is almost Japanese, like a woodcut set to music. All things become propulsion as the pace picks up. The wind is now a tornado moving through the trees as the rhythms dance and modulate. Then there is silence.

His second improvisation has him starting out with his hands upon the drums. The sound is softer, yet the accents more pronounced. A long roll on the floor tom becomes a chant, a mantra, as he varies the tone and volume. Switching to mallets he develops a dialog on the drums. Again, he works with themes, building things to a roar, then stopping on an accent, letting the cymbals ring and dissolve into the air.

He opens his second set with cloth covering the floor tom and snare. Atop of each, he places small cymbals and bells. The sounds he makes are tiny, intimate, with an Asian flavor. Rubbing an elephant bell on a small gong elicits squeaks and tingles. He moves to the cymbals, which were changed during the break. They are cheaper models that he has beaten with a hammer in order to darken the tone quality. They are ragged and bent, yet yield an orchestra of sounds up to his touch. There are waves of sound, like an ocean crashing onto the shore, building and sustaining. Tossing the things off his floor tom, he continues the torrent of sound until silence reigns.

The next improvisation begins with the rattle of keys on the snare drum head and rim with his left hand. With his right hand he takes a drum key and loosens the head of the floor tom until it’s completely slack. He places small cymbals and cup chimes on the head and begins to shake the drum, letting things create their own music as they dance and rattle together. He adds some small bells and things become a hypnotic stream of noise.

For the final piece, he retunes the floor tom and replaces his original cymbals, playing rhythms that are like a dance, gentle yet forceful. He’s joined by the deep rattling of a passing train and the squeak of the floorboards above, like a percussion ballet. Then the dance is over and the 20 or so participants bid their thanks and move on into the night.

Tim daisy is an exceptionally creative and energetic drummer. I would urge you to catch his performance-solo, with the trio Triage, with saxophonist Ken Vandermark, or with one of the many groups he plays in.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Tim Daisy
  • Concert Date: 12/3/2002
  • Venue: Myopic Books
  • City State Country: Chicago, Illinois, USA
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