Hot Licks: Genius Of Tony Williams

“Proto-Cosmos” from Believe It by The New Tony Williams Lifetime
This track is a great example of Williams’ explosive playing. He’s relentlessly aggressive, slamming his drums as hard as any rock drummer, even while playing more creative and complex ideas than most drummers could imagine. Although the bulk of the song is in 3/4, the drum breaks are all in 4/4, and Williams phrases his ideas using lots of odd groupings, ghost notes, and offbeat rhythms.

The first break uses a grouping of seven, and three implied groups of five, creating a very syncopated break. For the final four measures of the first break, Williams plays a cool groove that we’ve written in 4/4 but that he phrases more as two bars of 3/4 and one of 2/4.

The second break at 1:37 begins with an accent pattern that again outlines groups of five. His second break features a triplet displaced to the e of 1. The third break has a cool triplet figure played in an ascending tom pattern that most likely repeated a sticking of rL R L. The fourth break ends with a linear figure phrased in groups of three sixteenth-notes that may have been played L-L RFR LRL RFR LFR LFR L.

The final break at 3:22 begins with Williams playing “blushdas” — a rudimental pattern he’s often credited with first adapting to the drum set that’s been widely used by drummers like Gregg Bissonette and Vinnie Colaiuta. The blushda is half of a flam drag that is repeated: rL rr L (or vice versa). This fill is slurred and its notation is an approximation of what he played. A lot of these breaks sound like he’s not going to get out of them, but since he always knows where he is, even when we don’t, he always manages a last-second escape.

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