The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s odd time excursions, widely denigrated at the time by music critics, were hugely popular with fans and the general public, thanks in no small part to the stellar drumming of Joe Morello, who would navigate those time signatures with ease, always swinging hard and making musical that which a lesser drummer would have been simply unable to play. He had remarkably fluid technique, speed, and, most importantly, taste. His playing is a benchmark that generations of drummers can only hope to approach.
Here’s a little ditty in 7/4 with a phrasing that at the time probably sounded out of place anywhere other than Greece. There is a bass and handclap ostinato that outlines the phrasing of 2+2+3. Morello enters the tune after the groove is established and plays a dancing rhythm on his tom rims, which are hard panned left and right. Musically, he lightly accents the riffing along with the handclaps. Morello embellishes these patterns with triplets and flam taps. At this tempo it’s easy to see how he once became the rudimental champion of New England.
“Bossa Nova, U.S.A.”
Here’s one way to play a bossa nova — if you have stellar technique. For the opening, Morello plays a snare pattern that outlines the 3+3+4+3+3 bossa nova pattern but adds a rim-click immediately following each accent, creating an echo effect that at first may make you think they added a percussionist for the song. Later, he plays the accented snare pattern but doubles the accents on his ride. It’s easy to see how his lessons with George Lawrence Stone and Billy Gladstone paid off. To put his hand technique in a modern perspective for our younger readers, this is equivalent to effortlessly playing an accented blastbeat pattern for a couple minutes at 208. Oh, and his feet were fast too.