Ahh, the first taste of spring and the rhythms of nature begin to beat louder: musical torrents of thawed icepack underfoot in the streets and trails; the crash of a bionic-bright sun in a cloudless sky; the patter of dog turds thudding to the ground on Waterworks hill.
If you’re the type of person to take a cue from Ma Nature, you’ll probably want to check out the Blue Heron on Friday night, where the polyrhythmic groove of The Motet promises to generate a serious thaw of its own, one shaking booty at a time.
The Motet is a six-piece ensemble from Boulder, and half of their population is devoted to drums and percussion. Great, you may be thinking, Boulder means hippies and hippy skinbeaters—as evidenced by a good few of the seasonal, full-moon drummers on Jacobs Island—often beat to the dance of a different drum. All at the same time.
Any such fears about the Motet are quickly eradicated by even a cursory first listen of Play, their new release and second album. From chunky New Orleans funk to mesmerizing HeadHunters-type fusion to traditional West African and Afro-Cuban percussion and percussion/voice expressions, the Motet is all over the map in both the figurative and literal sense of the phrase.
Lead vocalist and percussionist Jans Ingber spent six months with the Griots of West Africa, and the entire rhythm section is fresh off a three-week stint in Cuba—their second such trip in two years—where they studied with one of the country’s foremost teachers of the bata, a drum used in the ceremonies of Santeria religion.
“We took lessons all day,” says Motet drummer and founder Dave Watts, “and then we played at ceremonies or rhumbas at night. It was an incredible experience.”
Although drumming was the primary goal of the trip, Watts says that their lessons came with some valuable baggage. “Bata drumming is so entrenched in the lives of most Cubans—singing, drumming and dancing is how they express their prayers—that you have to involve yourself in the culture to learn it. It’s a whole language in itself; we tried to learn it as a language and then we’d perform with someone and have a conversation.”
Traditional percussive prayer shows up on Play in “Guinee Kan,” a West African drums-only song and in “Ellegua/Chango,” a Santerian drums-and-voice offering. But The Motet also relishes translating some of those rhythms into sounds more common to the Northern Hemisphere.
“The first challenge is to transcribe the bata and dun-dun rhythms to the drumkit. And then we’d find a harmonic progression to work into a melody,” Watts says of the ripping funk and fusion numbers on the album. “We basically just set up forms for everybody to work with.”
And fine work it is, with always solid and at times spectacular guitar, bass and keyboard work throughout the album. This show is shaping up to be a thaw you won’t want to miss.
The Motet plays the Blue Heron on Friday, March 9 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets $8.