Artist: Bernard Purdie featuring John Anter and Marty Ballou
Album: If You Need Me
Review by Bryan Rodgers
Sometimes, all you need is a funky drummer. If You Need Me, a trio album featuring two drummers and a bassist, is perfect for those times. One of the world’s most prolific and respected drummers, Bernard Purdie, is joined by fellow drummer John Anter and bassist Marty Ballou for a rhythm summit long on hardcore technique and short on most everything else. Most listeners need a bit more than beats to engage their ears, and the album doesn’t have much to offer them, save some group interplay. As amazing as Purdie and Anter are, alone and together, it’s a lot to ask any number of drummers to carry an entire record.
For musicians, drummers in particular, this album plays like a master class of funk. There are even a couple of spoken pieces extolling the power and nuance of drumming, like the wide-eyed admiration expressed for snare soloists before “Nawlins.” But even jazz devotees, who regularly subject themselves to prolonged instrumental tinkering, will need a little patience to get through 5 tracks of drums before the bass invigorates the rest of the album. That’s not a condemnation of the drummers or the work they do, as Purdie and Anter are both technically astounding and emotive throughout If You Need Me. Without taking anything away from the musicians’ accomplishments and abilities, it’s no stretch to say that most listeners aren’t going to care for what basically sounds like 10 minutes of raw drum tracks waiting for a melody.
When analyzed, the tracks flawlessly exhibit Purdie’s easy grasp of styles, and that’s one of the reasons he’s the most recorded drummer in the history of civilization. “Warm Up” sounds like the funkiest drum sound check ever, while the fully fleshed drum duo “C-E-C” (short for Controlled Energy Created) is ripe and ready for any number of musical ideas to complement it. That in itself is a little frustrating, but no less indicative of their talent. The remaining drum-only tracks sound like mere snippets of ideas. There’s growing, pounding malice in “I’ll Show You” that also shows up in the crescendo of “Nawlins,” and “Take the People With You” is more of the breezy, soulful funk style that is so prevalent throughout the album.
After the bare-bones drum tracks, Marty Ballou’s gliding, classic jazz bass sound is welcome. As much as the drummers relish going off on their own, they obviously thrive under the insistent thrum of the bass. Every idea gets a little more head-bobbingly funky, and every passage coaxes more toe taps and shoulder sways out of the listener. “A Brush with Blues” is a timeless type of jazz strut with plenty of polyrhythm and a strikingly refreshing bass solo backed by subtle drums. It’s a loose vibe, as someone asks Ballou “you want some more?” as his solo threatens to draw to a close. He replies “yeah” and takes another bunch of bars to revel in the flawless rhythm. “In 3” is similarly nostalgic, reminiscent of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” in its dramatic changes. There’s a limited range to what they can do, and the rest of the album suffers a bit from repetition like the first 10 minutes did. “Walkin’ Bootz” finds the drummers going off with aplomb, and “Splatt” incorporates electric bass for a new kind of feel. But in the end, each track is more of the same, and the listener’s enjoyment of If You Need Me depends entirely on their predilection towards drum-focused meanderings and the occasional capture of funk lightning in a bottle.
Review by Bryan Rodgers