Groove Alchemy is a multi-media project including a CD with Stanton Moore on drums, Robert Walter on Hammond B3 organ and piano, and Will Bernard on guitar, a 151-page instruction book, and a DVD. Featured on this site earlier in the year is an interview with Moore which describes the entire project in great detail. What is extraordinary about the documentary—on the surface a step-by-step audio and visual document—is how the New Orleans drummer was able to tell a consistently engaging story of the importance of the funk rudiments at the heart of his improvisatory skills over a three-hour timeframe. Never straying too far from his thesis, the film resonates.
And what gets this writer’s blood flowing isn’t just the music that I listen to on a daily basis—my beloved jamband music, improvisation (which isn’t necessarily jam, at all), jazz, old country, classic rock, prog, old and new, R&B, and folk and classic, for good measure—but the films that fuel my passion for searching for that artistic pearl. With the DVD portion of the expansive and thoroughly informative and entertaining Groove Alchemy project, Moore was able to nail down a percussive tale, literally and figurative, in a classic storytelling sense. With examples stemming from the funk roots of James Brown’s drummers, Jabo Starks and Clyde Stubblefield, to the Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste, to the importance of that unique swing heard on John Bonham’s work with Led Zeppelin, Moore builds his story and lesson from the ground up, laying the foundation, and eventually, constructing an avenue which can give the aspiring or seasoned veteran the tools necessary for improvisation.
That ability to learn how to improvise is where Moore hits a classic peak of expression. As a young drummer, this writer became bored very quickly with the drum sticks hitting the drum pad in a certain time signature to develop nuance and repetition. What Moore does is show how all of those hours of honing one’s skills and craft can set the mind and body free to create. In the film, he builds upon the lessons, and the footage leads up to performances, showing how this groundwork can produce fine group melodic structure and improvisation within a funk-defined framework. Ahhh…that word, again, framework. Moore’s DVD, perhaps even more than the CD and booklet, shows his art for the casual listener, fan, or musician as a means to create new sonic imagery within that very frame, yes; but it also shows how one can turn all of that on its drumhead, and start pursuing one’s own inner funk. And that is what it is all about, isn’t it?