John French

O Solo Drumbo

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John French carved his name into the annals of rock as the drummer (under the Drumbo nom de musique) in Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, most notably on the classic album Trout Mask Replica. He pretty much disappeared from the music scene shortly thereafter, resurfacing as part of the avant supergroup French, Frith, Kaiser, Thompson in the late '80s. Henry Kaiser apparently convinced him to record this solo drums album for John Zorn's Avant label, but it's an oddly stodgy affair. Whereas most drummers who attempt a solo project generally have some overarching conception in mind (for example, Jerome Cooper or Don Moye), French essentially just plays the drum parts from songs, his own as well as several from the Magic Band songbook. Adding fuel to the controversy of exactly who was responsible for composing what in that group, Don Van Vliet only gets compositional credit for one piece here. If we're to buy his assertions, French is evidently responsible for, among others, the push-pull rhythm of "Bat Chain Puller," for instance. In any case, his thick sound and falling-down-the-stairs cadences form the predominant impressions here, but one finds the entire disc a bit much to justify. Max Roach he isn't. Beefheart fans who absolutely have to have everything produced by any Magic Band member will require O Solo Drumbo. Others will prefer to hear his particular genius in more accommodating surroundings.

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