RESONANCY: MAKAYA MCCRAVEN, Sunday, Jan. 13, $10, 8:30 p.m. | Neptunes Parlour, Raleigh | www.kingsraleigh.com
In September, on the final day of the Hopscotch Music Festival, the drummer John Colpitts had a story to tell: It was about the moment, less than seven months before, when he thought he was going to die on the side of a Los Angeles highway.
In late February, Colpitts—best known as Kid Millions, part of the ecstatic exploratory New York weirdo rock band Oneida—was headed for an early-morning flight back home when his taxi was walloped from behind, sending it careening into a wall. The pain was unbearable, he confided on that Saturday afternoon, his body partially obscured by the drums he played as he relayed the saga in fits and starts. “If I just relax and just observe, maybe I will live through this,” he said, his halting voice and broken rhythm suggesting an existential uncertainty that had yet to fade entirely. By the end of the thirty-minute set, the afternoon’s audience had been with him to the hospital and back home in New York, sharing his anxiety about his career and the grip of his opioid prescription. There was a little laughing and a little crying, all responses to nothing but drums, voice, and feeling.
Colpitts’s poignant September memoir was a one-day outgrowth of Resonancy, a fledgling series of drummers, percussionists, and beat-oriented tinkerers that Neptunes had debuted eight months earlier. The idea, explains club manager Kate VanVorst, was simple—to give drummers, long hidden in the rear of most bands and stereotypically relegated to mere rhythm-keeping status, a space to push their instruments and individual interests further.
A solo performance by Joe Westerlund, best known these days for his subtle motion in bands like Mandolin Orange, had prompted the concept. He’d treated his drum kit like his own little symphony, coaxing uncanny textures from rumbling snares, scraped cymbals, and simple electronics.
“It was really inspiring to me,” VanVorst remembers. “I wondered if more drummers wanted that kind of platform—to get weird, to do their own thing, to be in charge of a set.”
So she asked, emailing an assortment of North Carolina timekeepers to see how they would take to the idea of a show without the bounds of their bands. They loved it, though a few admitted that this would be their first time dreaming up music of their own.
This week, Neptunes begins the second full edition of Resonancy with five Sunday night shows from drummers and producers in search of something more than a backbeat. The series takes an essential next step thanks to the financial boost of a few sponsors: Working with drummer and fellow concert promoter Devon Tuttle, VanVorst recruited several drummers outside of North Carolina to the series, expanding both its geographical and stylistic reach in surprising ways. Crisscrossing jazz and techno, metal and garage rock, classical and Appalachian folk, it is one of the Triangle’s most intriguing avant-garde series this decade, its unifying idea a direct route for divergent explorations.
During the second week, for instance, Wisconsin drummer Jon Mueller will use a chimera of drone energy, heavy metal intensity, and ritualistic singing to conjure a sort of entrancing religious fervor. His sets are like spiritual revivals in honor of some unnamed deity. And the series begins with Chicago’s Makaya McCraven, whose music delights with a post-modern esprit at the divide between jazz and hip-hop while thriving on an unbridled collaborative zeal. He assembled his massive 2018 LP, Universal Beings, by editing transatlantic jam sessions with some of the brightest young stars in the now-teeming jazz orbit into a seamless sprawl of sound.
McCraven’s appearance at the start of the series is a fluke of scheduling, a brief mid-January excursion for an inspired instrumentalist whose banner year of critical acclaim and budding international notice will keep him busy. But at its most wide-eyed, his music frames a fitting thesis statement for drummers looking to do more with their kits, opening up worlds of sound with the building block of rhythm.
It is, for him, a lifelong quest: McCraven is the son of two successful musicians from seemingly disparate backgrounds. His mother, Ágnes Zsigmondi McCraven, is an inquisitive Eastern European folk singer from Hungary who became a longtime Massachusetts music teacher; his father, Stephen McCraven, anchored bands with jazz giants like Archie Shepp and Marion Brown and laterally explored African rhythmic traditions.
As a toddler, he would sit at the kit in his father’s lap, the beginning of his relationship with the drums. He marveled at his father’s self-produced records, built with pieces he’d write himself before asking friends to step in to play and embellish, suggesting a framework of the drummer as composer. Meanwhile, he recognized that music educators like his mother needed a basic proficiency with most every instrument in order to best help their students develop their interests, a lesson that McCraven took to heart even as he developed as an instrumentalist and started bands.
He talks now about his vast collection of instruments—vintage keyboards and Moog synthesizers, Indian bells and North African bagpipes, assorted basses and varied woodwinds—like a family of his cousins, each personified by an origin story and sense of possibility. They are collaborators and confidants, muses that push him beyond the expectations of a kit.
“Sometimes that’s a really nice way of composing, if I can only play an instrument remedially. I’m using the limitations of being an amateur on an instrument,” he says. “I use that as inspiration to make music: record it, chop it up, make a beat around it, get someone who can really play to elaborate on that idea. It’s part of my study to be a thoroughly trained and thoughtful musician, part of my journey to try and achieve mastery—which is painfully fleeting, not an arrive-able place.”