Frank Colón: New Sounds & Ancient Traditions

“And sometimes when I came up, I’d just hang with him and drink coffee and not play. When that happened, I’d drive back five hours in the snow, and practice the same stuff that I learned two months ago. And sometimes I came up and he was waiting for me on the steps. We’d go up immediately and work on six different things, and I’d go back dizzy with all this stuff.”

frank colon

Colón’s Cage

Drums: Toca
1. Brass Timbales
2. 10" Classic Mini Single Timbale
3. 8" Classic Mini Single Timbale
4. 13" Legend Snare Drum
5. LE Bongos
6. 11" LE Quinto
7. 11-3/4" LE Conga,br /> 8. 12-1/2" LE Tumbadora
9. Djembe

Cymbals: Paiste
A. 36" Symphonic Gong
B. 8" Visions Mini Hi-Hat
C. 16" Signature Fast Crash
D. 16" Signature Thin China
E. 18" Signature Flat Ride

G. Dauz Pad
H. Gibraltar Intruder Bass Pedal With KAT Trigger
I. Korg Wavedrum
J. Electronic Rack
Korg X5DR
Alesis D-4
Casio FZ-10M Sampler 8-Channel Mixer

After a year, Colón finally quit commuting and moved to New York City. The “disciple” was given more responsibility, accompanying Collazo and his three bata drummers to santeria functions. Eventually, Colón was promoted to playing bata, a huge responsibility where carefully scripted “conversations” take place between the three drums: the small okonkolo, the medium-sized itotele and the mother iya.

Colón is not a santero (he is a practicing Buddhist). But perhaps it was after these intense santeria sessions, where the drummers’ responsibility went beyond the musical realm and into a truly spiritual one, that the real power of rhythm became clearer than ever to him. When Collazo became a santeria priest and “hung up his gloves,” Colón went full force into the professional drumming world that he had begun to work his way into.

As an independent, Colón found no problem getting gigs in the jazz circuit. A well-stocked calendar of dates with high-profile players like Olatunji and Gato Barbieri launched him onto the fast-track of freelancing, as word of his explosive performances and wide scope of knowledge started to spread.

But then Colón took a two-week break to meet his in-laws in Brazil, home not only of the cuica and berimbau, but of a wide range of percussion instruments in Colón’s collection, such as the surdo, ganca, agogo, reco-reco and a host of others.

Predictably, two weeks turned into two years, as the American percussionist became an instant hot commodity down south. Remember the shekere? “I played shekere on this album with a group called MPB4,” Colón explains. “This was the first time the shekere had ever been played in Brazil. All of a sudden this Brazilian producer loved this thing. There wasn’t even a Portuguese word for it! It was the ’in’ into recording in Brazil and Rio.”

Soon, word of this weird Yankee percussionist made it to Milton Nascimento, Brazil’s foremost international singer at the time. Colón was invited to lend his talents to Nascimento’s next record, Missa Dos Quilombos, an album of breathtaking beauty recorded live in an abandoned monastery in the hills of Brazil. After a world tour, though, it was finally time to head back to the States.

Back home, an introduction to saxophonist Wayne Shorter led to an all-too-brief stint with Weather Report. “To this day, I’m still tight with Wayne, but they had two leaders,” Colón notes. “I didn’t get along with one.” Colón soon bounced back, lining up long-running gigs with the powerful singer Tania Maria, Ray Anderson’s brilliant Alligatory Band plus countless other tours and records with jazz, pop and world music artists. Colón has graced Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum CD and The Tonight Show with Manhattan Transfer, and he recently released his first solo record, Live at Vartan Jazz.

Recorded at the Denver club, Colón’s disc is a bright, energetic collection that gives an idea of the force and wide scope that Colón likes to unleash every once in a while. “I was trying to make it a cultural mix,” Colón says. “Latin sensuality, jazz sophistication, with some rock and roll power. I definitely come from this rock aspect, which makes me a bit of a renegade in the jazz ambiance. I know how to balance it, but when it comes to delivering, my heart beckons for this hard-rock delivery. I have to rein it in.”

Armed with an all-star cast of Buddy Williams on drums, Aloisio Aguilar on piano, Gregory Jones on bass, and Wayne Johnson on drums, Colón alternately breezes, punches, and slides through the album’s nine arrangements. In his incredible show-closing solo on “A3,” Colón uncorks his lightning speed, as he uses all six limbs and the kitchen sink to put an end to things.

There’s much more in store for the self-confessed workaholic. Electronics like triggers and the Korg Wave Drum are enhancing his acoustic setup. Colón will be touring with his band, as well as recording a second solo album, as the seasoned sideman evolves into a frontman. Also upcoming is a percussion triumvirate that Colón has formed with fellow New Yorkers David Meade and David Silliman.

Meanwhile, Colón just caught a new rhythm and drum in his searchlight. It seems some players from Uruguay recently showed him candombe, and now he’s tapping the potential. “It’s totally new information,” he reveals. “I’d heard the candombe in recordings, but I’d never witnessed it. Then I started hanging out with these candombe players.

“Drummer to drummer, you never lose that little-kid type purity: ’I love this so much, could you please teach me?’ So here I am again, seeking out these guys, watching them play, saying, ’Hey man, how’s this done?’”

For Frank Colón, square one is always just around the corner.

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