CD Release: Painting Time

Liner notes by Bill Milkowski

Widely acknowledged by critics and concert programmers alike as a musical trailblazer, Tom Teasley's adeptness at world rhythms and command of several different ethnic instruments has fueled his ongoing search for an amalgam of pan-global beats wedded to jazz improvisation. On Painting Time, his fifth outing as a leader, the versatile Washington D.C.-based drummer-percussionist-educator explores a wide range of styles in the company of longtime colleagues Chris Battistone on trumpet, John Jensen on trombone and Bruce Swaim on saxophones. Special guest drummer-percussionist Nasar Abadey also appears on three tracks, enhancing the proceedings on the provocative modal excursion "Amber Water," the funky James Brown-in-Istanbul groover "Good Foot Dervish" and the South Indian flavored "Snake Charmer."

"My concept is that I take an instrument from one part of the world and apply playing techniques from another part of the world," says the teacher of percussion and artist-in-residence at the Levine School of Music. "It's kind of a cross-pollination of instruments and techniques. My attempt is to tap into the power of the world's rhythms, both secular and sacred, and try to integrate them in an intuitive way, filtering it all through my own musical and life experiences as an American."

Captivating rhythms and sounds from Africa, Brazil, India, Bali and the Middle East abound on Painting Time. They meld seamlessly with sophisticated jazz harmonies and extended improvisations by the principal soloists on this potent collection of infectious grooves and unabashed blowing. It's a United Nations of sound, with Teasley at the helm, steering this sonic ark through some uncharted waters from his drum set while overdubbing layers of percussion instruments, from caj¢n, riq and surdo to dumbek, tabla, gamelan and caxixi.

"The reality is this stuff has been going on forever," says Teasley. "If you were to track what was happening during the Silk Road era hundreds of years ago, musicians were traveling and coming across other musicians that had similar instruments like frame drums or tambourines but were incorporating different techniques on them. So cultural exchange has been an important part of musical development forever. Currently what is happening is that everything is moving at warp speed since the Internet. You can type in "Arabic rhythm" into your search engine and get a plethora of information about that. People are beginning to create this kind of hybrid music because the information is so accessible to people everywhere. So I guess we're all creating our own world music."

Painting Time opens on a highly charged note with "The Awakening," an African flavored number in 6/8 which is adorned by Teasley's trance-like marimba pattern and punctuated by tight unison lines between the three horns. Battistone comes out of the gate with a bristling high register trumpet solo while Jensen adds to the majesty of the piece with a stirring solo on double bell euphonium. Swaim follows with a searing bop-informed flute solo while Teasley takes the piece out by traversing the kit with crisp polyrhythmic aplomb.

Bassist James King supplies an insinuating low-end pulse on "Amber Water," a kind of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" bolero colored by sly, shifting horn voicings and underscored by the two-drum tandem of Teasley and Abadey. Teasley's use of udu drum and HandSonic (a touch sensitive hand drum synthesizer) adds substantial depth to the groove factor here.

The haunting "Sheba's Dream," again underscored by Teasley's mesmerizing marimba ostinato, is a feature for trombonist Jensen, who reveals a warm, beautiful tone and penchant for both lyricism and multiphonics in his dramatic solo. Teasley explains the title of this evocative piece. "This is for my pet bulldog named Sheba and if you've ever witnessed a bulldog sleep, they snore a lot! About halfway through the tune John Jensen is playing some low harmonics on the trombone that reminds me of Sheba in a deep sleep."

Jensen's facile trombone chops are again showcased on the infectious "Good Foot Dervish," which sounds like longtime James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley jamming in Turkey with the whirling dervishes supplying the choreography. Bassist King once again anchors this funky number with resounding upright bass lines while Swaim adds smoking, Pee Wee Ellis-inspired tenor sax work, eventually engaging in some heated call-and-response with Jensen. Teasley lends a distinctly Middle Eastern feel with doumbek, gonkogi bells and riq while Abadey colors the insistent groove with congas.

Teasley's exotic gamelan (a kind of Indonesian xylophone) and dumbek help shape the dreamy proceedings on "White Orchid," a meditative number that also features some adventurous flute work by Swaim. Brazil meets India on the ominous groover "Snake Charmer," which has Abadey on berimbau engaging in a lively dialogue with Teasley?s caxixi against the backdrop of electric tabla. Battistone turns in an arresting flugelhorn solo here while Swaim wails with bop-fueled intensity on his slinky soprano sax solo. Jensen adds another expressive and remarkably facile trombone solo on this dark-hued multi-culti anthem, which is again anchored by King's hypnotic, deep-toned bass groove.

"Know Diddley" is a reference to rock 'n' roll pioneer Bo Diddley, whose '50s hits were all fueled by the rhythm of the Cuban clave. Teasley provides that signature beat on synth bass and rhythm sticks while simultaneously churning underneath with a shuffling drum pattern and augmenting the groove with caj¢n and surdo, the deep-toned Brazilian field drum heard in batacuda ensembles. Jensen's trombone and Swaim's tenor sax swirl around the steady clave pattern, engaging in a kind of freewheeling call-and-response that animates the track with the spirit of jazz.

The collection closes on a calming note with the gentle, hymn-like "Hope Flows...Like Water." Beginning in silence, it unfolds gradually with Teasley applying a Zen-like touch on cymbals and a subtle use of mallets on the tom toms. Jensen states the simple melody on trombone before Battistone enters on trumpet, blowing lightly and politely around the motif. Swaim then joins in on soprano sax, adding to the conversational nature of this lilting, uplifting lullaby. "That was a completely improvised piece at the end of a long session," explains Teasley. "It's an interesting contrast to the rest of the recording in that there were no overdubs, no editing. It was just the four of us playing live in the studio together.

"I was trying to channel Elvin Jones's feel on the tom toms and Tony Williams' ride cymbal sound on that tune," he adds. "The tom toms and the bass drum sort of create a bass line. When John comes in with that theme on trombone, it reminds me a little bit of an Aaron Copland kind of vibe. Towards the end of the piece, Chris and Bruce really give the illusion of rain falling on a lake. I responded to that by trying to create the impression of rain falling on a tin roof with the ride cymbal."

All the brilliant tones, textures and colors of Teasley's percussive rainbow ring out with clarity and vibrancy on Painting Time. And his sidemen, first-rate improvisers all, provide further depth to this bold experiment in cross-pollination, helping to create a wonderful tapestry of sound. -- Bill Milkowski


Bill Milkowski is a regular contributor to Jazz Times, Modern Drummer and TRAPS!magazines. He is also the author of JACO: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius (Backbeat Books)


by Brad Walseth

In "Painting Time," Washington D.C.-based percussionist Tom Teasley has crafted a colorful melange of world musical forms and sounds into a vibrant tapestry. Album opener “The Awakening” leaps out of the jungle and at the listener with ferocity. This mesmerizing composition features John Jensen on double bell euphonium and trombone, Chris Battistone on trumpet and Bruce Swaim on soprano sax punctuating the atmosphere above Teasley’s hypnotic bed of marimba and percussion with unison jazz lines. Swaim also adds a wonderful flute solo to highlight the piece along with Teasley’s tasteful percussive interjections.

“Amber Water” uses water sounds from Teasley’s HandSonic touch-sensitive hand drum synthesizer as a percussive element, with the horns trading off long free lines over bassist James King’s slinky groove and Teasley and guest drummer Nasar Abadey’s interplay. The haunting “Sheba’s Dream” features John Jensen on an eerie conch shell and trombone over Teasley on marimba again, along with cymbals and udu. The drummer’s command of a wide range of percussion instruments is only matched by his ability and desire to use them in new and unusual configurations.

One of Teasley’s interesting compositional ideas is to use traditional instruments and beats in surprising new contexts, for example using an instrument from one part of the world to play a beat from another. “Good Foot Dervish” sounds like it could have come from James Brown’s catalog, but with instruments like doumbek, gonkogi bell, riq and shakers involved, the urban groove is transported to the desert bazaar. “White Orchid,” with its attractive hallucinatory sheen showcases Teasely on the electric gamelan and it is an appealing opium dream indeed. A true highlight, one can hope Teasely does more with this amazing instrument in the future.

The electric tabla provides percussive impetus on the delicious and fascinating “Snake Charmer,” a song that lives up to its name by being both snaky and charming, while calling out the cobras on an urban backstreet. Battistone, who has cowriter credit on this song as well as much of the session, creates some frightening trumpet sounds — scary but good. Meanwhile “Know Diddley” uses the ’50s rock and roller’s trademark Cuban clave beat with a slew of unusual percussion elements to bring new life to the old familiar beat. The improvised “Hope Flows…Like Water” ends this engagingly polychromatic recording with a peaceful outro that engenders visions of the sun setting on the African savannah.

Using a bright and varied palette of sounds, Teasley and his fellow musicians have painted with time a rainbow-colored landscape that never settles for primary colors alone.

Drum! Magazine

by J. Poet

The wind arrangements for drum, trombone and reed vary from delicately constructed dissonances to free improvisation, none of it anchored by keyboard, guitar, or any other harmonic instrument.

The bass lines are spare to the point of nearly evaporating. This lends a weightless quality to Painting Time, which allows Teasley ample latitude in defining the flow as well as the detail of the rhythm. His percussion battery is exotic, mixing intruguingly with the mainstream jazz brass voicings of "Amber Water" and the all-out funk of "Good Foot Dervish."

He works like a conjurer, more with emptiness than with substance. With only a marima pattern built on an open fifth, whispering cymbals and udu clay drums keeping time, "Sheba's Dream" transforms into an audio hallucination, before which John Jensen's trombone shimmers like a mirage beneath a vast blue sky.

Fusions between American and Eastern schools are old news, yet seldom has any percussionist drawn so deply from both wells and come up with a blend as bewitching and original as this.

Riveting Riffs: Whirling Dervishes and James Brown

by Joe Montague

The first time that I heard Tom Teasley’s CD Painting Time, I wrote his publicist and raved about the music. I do not pretend to even be remotely knowledgeable about some of the more exotic percussion instruments that Teasley has mastered, but I do recognize excellent music when I hear it. In addition to releasing this phenomenal disc, Teasley has just finished a run as the Music Director for Arabian Nights at the Source Theater in Washington, D.C.

When I asked Teasley how he would describe his music to someone unfamiliar with it, he said, “What you are posing has been both my blessing and my curse, throughout the later years of my career. Were I trying to explain it to somebody who had not heard my music before, I would probably say that it is world music, with very much of a jazz influence.  In terms of the business aspect of the music, when it is being marketed to radio, they do not know whether to play it in the world section or in the jazz section. As a result, I get more exposure than I would if it were more clearly defined in (just) one genre. It becomes more difficult (however), for me to chart, and make the big imprint that I would like to make.”

As has been the case with numerous very talented artists that I have spoken to and do not fit into the tight format of commercial radio, Teasley has discovered that the cyber airwaves have served him well. “I have noticed with the advent of people finding music via the internet, that those things (fitting into a particular genre), become a little less important. When you start looking globally, I am surprised at how quickly the word of mouth spreads. Recently I received emails from people in South Africa, the Netherlands and Denmark, all in one day. I get emails from people, who say, ‘A friend of mine turned me on to this, and now I’m going to tell somebody about it,” says Teasley. 


Teasley provides an interesting perspective on how he wound up playing what at least in part can be described as world music, “I don’t think that I have a choice, because when artists find themselves, it is much less them choosing the music, as much as it is the music choosing them. There were times in my career, when I could have gone in another direction. This was just something that kept tugging at me, and it was like wherever the music took me, is where I needed to go. I am not beholden to anyone else, and that allows me the freedom to pursue my artistic vision. As long as there are people who find the music to be compelling, that gives me strength to know that I am going in the right direction.

“Most of the work that I do is not so much with an ensemble, but as a solo percussionist, which is an unusual thing unto itself. What I do in that situation is use a variety of instruments such as frame drums, tambourines and hand drums. I combine those with western instruments such as a vibraphone or a drum set. I take that even further and use some electronic cymbals. I am very interested in trying to maintain the timeline with those instruments that go back thousands of years, and are among the first instruments to be every played. I combine that (approach) with some of the most recent advances in midi technology. It is a very organic way to be respectful to both genres (jazz and world music). It allows me to continue in a tradition that developed thousands of years before, and then when I use more recent technology, it makes it feel like it comes from a deep place, versus what I believe that I can create electronically,” says Teasley.

Whereas, the percussionist’s previous CD Word Beat The Soul Dances, reflected his solo live performances, he began this project with the intent to involve more instruments. 

Teasley says, “It (Painting Time) is a creative piece versus starting with a concept and creating a composition. (It started with my) taking an Indian rhythm and interpreting it on frame drums, then combining it with Brazilian rhythms. After I recorded it, I lived with it for a while.”

After that, Teasley wrote out some melodic sketches before turning to his friend Chris Battistone, asking him to elaborate on them, and to harmonize the melodies with horns. “I wanted to make sure that the horn lines were being fully integrated into the rhythm that was created. Unlike a more traditional approach (that consists of) a melody, a set of chord changes, a groove and that the percussion specific rhythms would compliment those,” he says.