Terry Bozzio - Composer Series album review

An exhausting musical marathon from the ex-Zappa drummer

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What’s the last thing a drummer says before he gets fired from the band? ‘Hey guys, check out this song I’ve written.’ An old and terrible joke, but drummers who want to write music face the simple obstacle that their instrument doesn’t readily lend itself to composition. That’s why Phil Collins plays piano, and Charlie Benante and Dave Grohl play guitar. Terry Bozzio’s Composer Series is four CDs and one Blu-ray that showcase very different sides of his creative process.

The Blu-ray focuses on a 30-minute solo performance from Bozzio in which he moves between his gargantuan drum set, a much smaller collection of African and Japanese drums, and hand percussion. As Bozzio explains in an accompanying interview, the kit is tuned to pitches and his concept involves playing the drums melodically. In practice, the melodies are hard to discern – the drums can’t communicate a pitch with the tonal richness of a piano – so what’s left is an extended drum solo built over a very monotonous bass line. Seventeen minutes of this is enough to test the patience of even the most ardent drumming fan, so it’s a relief when Bozzio switches over to the African/Japanese set just for the tonal change. Bozzio’s commitment to his performance is absolute, his brow furrowed in concentration, but it’s unlikely to eclipse Moby Dick in the annals of memorable drum solos.

The four CDs move the focus away from the drum set completely, collecting Bozzio’s compositions dating back to the late 1970s. The discs are titled Fusion 1, Fusion 2, Classic, and Ambient, although they are each heavily keyboard-based and the music on all four discs often sounds like the score to some lost 1980s John Carpenter science fiction movie.

Bozzio’s notes in the booklet included with the set contain references to Miles Davis, Joe Zawinul, and Jeff Beck, yet all the ‘fusion’ tracks sound remarkably uniform. He shows a talent for crafting a mood – it’s easy to imagine Cityscape or Marked Man playing over scenes of a detective driving through a nocturnal futuristic urban environment in some Blade Runner cyberpunk world. The issue is that too many of these compositions are built around one idea repeated on a loop and there’s little sense of a musical theme being established and then developed or explored further. The weaker tracks could be the elevator music in that cyberpunk city while a piece like Music For Idiots sounds like someone randomly noodling on a piano while an orchestra tunes up behind them.

It all makes for a very challenging experience.