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In appreciation of Joey Baron

There is a joke about a man who goes in search of a new brain. He approaches a brain surgeon who, by night, opens his home theatre to the general public who are in need of something new.

The man asks for some prices, to which the brain surgeon replies “well, you see here I have the cheapest specimen, a doctors brain, will set you back £500”. Impressed, the man asks “what else do you have?” The brain surgeon reveals a rocket scientist’s brain saying “this will set you back £750”.

Realising this is an investment worth spending some hard currency on, the man says “OK, what is your most expensive brain”. The brain surgeon, at this stage getting nervously excited himself now, opens up a case to reveal a final brain. “This one is a drummer’s brain, it’ll cost you £1,500”.

Confused given the calibre of the two previous brains, the man asks “but why is this brain more expensive?” The brain surgeon coyly replies, “because it’s never been used before.”

This, though clearly true in some (I used to be a drummer, it’s OK), is a tad unfair. As it has been noted elsewhere, we should really throw out the drummer jokes – rhythm is clever.

But these are not the only merits of a drummer, as one Joey Baron is proof of. I first heard Joey play drums with John Zorn with his Masada band. The fantastic song Beeroth (below) was something I could listen to over and over again.

To say that the drums carry the song would be an understatement. It controls the song, that and the looming double bass that is steadily following a conventional time structure throughout, while the drums throw themselves various different directions.

The performance shows just how vital Baron’s role is, and the point at which the drums really come alive for me is at 04:28 when the timing structure is really beaten off, pounding hard on the crash and the snare with as many hits as is possible given the parameters of the 4/4 structure committed to by the bass and Zorn on the sax.

Accuse me of not looking at the important things here, but one cannot help grin when at the end Baron looks over at his fellow musicians to share in the moment the music comes to an end, the audience enthused, and sweat falling from his brow.

Baron is a drummer who has performed live with just drums. Below is an example of that, at a show called “Mozg”, where for 7 minutes one is hypnotised at the differing sounds, the detail and the accuracy, as though each and every stroke of the drum is perfectly measured.

The point at 03:42 where Baron is pressing hard on the woodwork is a highlight, realising you could hear a pin drops between the pelts he delivers with his drum sticks, then of course the fierce climax at 05:48 where the hairs on my arms are raised, particularly at the point which Baron presses 4 times on the hard-hat with his left foot, keeping time all the while.

He has performed with the very best, Michael Jackson, Bowie, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Pepper and many more. But other songs that make a night’s musical reminiscing complete are below, both of which are held together by Baron in a way that disturbs our typical view of the drummer.

Naked City’s Sack of Shit (with its blastbeat drumming and at 00:34 a free-style bridge to the next verse)

And of course his solo at Roulette (the immediate parts after 03:00 especially)

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