Drummer Mark Guiliana (David Bowie’s Blackstar) Creates Adventurous Electronic Music with his Expansive Ensemble BEAT MUSIC
Due out April 12 via Motéma Music, BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! features a brilliant community of musicians breathing vivid life into Guiliana’s wide-ranging electro-acoustic compositions
Hailed by The New York Times as “a drummer around whom a cult of admiration has formed,” Mark Guiliana brings the same adventurous spirit, eclectic palette and gift for spontaneous invention to a staggering range of styles. Equally virtuosic playing acoustic jazz, boundary-stretching electronic music, or next-level rock, he’s become a key collaborator with such original sonic thinkers as Brad Mehldau, Meshell Ndegeocello, Donny McCaslin, Matisyahu, and the late, great David Bowie.
Guiliana’s forward-leaping BEAT MUSIC is more than a band – it’s a community. Over the last decade the drummer has gathered around him a family of like-minded artists who share a passion for the limitless possibilities of electronic music combined with an in-the-moment creativity rooted in jazz improvisation. On April 12, Motéma Music will release Guiliana’s third plunge into that vast musical ocean, the emphatically titled BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! (available now for pre-order). The in-your-face exclamation of that title is no accident; Guiliana’s third recording with his BEAT MUSIC cohort is a bold and vigorous exploration of window-rattling grooves, cinematic imagery, ecstatic atmospheres and a captivating tapestry of textures and voices.
To realize his ambitious vision for the project, Guiliana has enlisted a host of collaborators who’ve become part of the BEAT MUSIC community over the years, including such genre-defying artists as bassists Chris Morrissey, Stu Brooks, Jonathan Maron, and Tim Lefebvre; keyboardists Jason Lindner, BIGYUKI, and Jeff Babko; electronicists Troy Zeigler and Steve Wall; and spoken word samples from longtime collaborators Cole Whittle and Jeff Taylor, as well as Guiliana’s wife, singer Gretchen Parlato (along with his son, Marley).
“I feel very lucky to have people that I genuinely consider to be my favorite musicians as part of the BEAT MUSIC family,” Guiliana says. “It was important for me to have all of those collaborators represented on this record, to reap the rewards of the hundreds of hours of gigs we’ve spent improvising and discovering together.”
BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! doesn’t feature improvisation in the traditional sense that Guiliana’s previous release, the acoustic quartet album Jersey, did. The music was composed entirely by Guiliana, albeit drawn from his extensive interactions with each of these musicians. But each of his collaborators brings a distinctive voice and attitude to the mix, so that even when playing a thoroughly written line they imbue each note with an individual essence.
“Even when I’m asking the musicians in BEAT MUSIC to play a part, I’m still very much asking them to play it the way they play,” Guiliana explains. “This music is mostly through-composed, but there’s microscopic improvising in every moment. In each note there are sonic choices to be made about articulation, duration of notes, where to leave space, and myriad aspects like that. Those things might not be considered ‘improvising’ in a jazz sense, but in this genre those decisions make a world of difference. No decision I could make would be better than what these guys choose to do; they really bring the music to life.”
Guiliana took a circuitous route to electronic music. He initially came to the drums via the grunge-dominated music of his teenage years: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden (whose drummer, Matt Cameron, would later enlist Guiliana for his own solo project). As he began to study the instrument, he was introduced to jazz in high school and was captivated by the music’s complexity, nuances and diversity. Leaving the relative isolation of his suburban New Jersey home to find a wealth of like-minded acquaintances at William Paterson University, he heard Feed Me Weird Things, the debut album by UK electronica pioneer Squarepusher, for the first time. That opened up a whole new world of sonic possibilities for Guiliana, who began to pursue electronic music in parallel with jazz.
No matter the focus of a particular album or project, Guiliana’s music blends those three major influences in varying balances: the raw power and intensity of hard rock; the spiritual questing of John Coltrane and the aggressive musical curiosity of Miles Davis; the brain-twisting manipulations and cut-up hybridizations of Squarepusher and Aphex Twin.
Those diverse influences have converged in different ways throughout Guiliana’s career. On one end of the spectrum is his Jazz Quartet and on the opposite is BEAT MUSIC, with which he’s recorded twice before – on a self-titled 2012 EP as well as the 2014 album The Los Angeles Improvisations – and the similarly-inclined outings A Form of Truth (2013) and My Life Starts Now (2014).
In between are a multitude of combinations, from the electro-acoustic duo Mehliana with Brad Mehldau to the increasingly electronic-influenced work of the Donny McCaslin Quartet, which also features Lindner and Lefebvre. Those four players, three of whom are featured on this album, also became the core band for David Bowie’s acclaimed final release, Blackstar. The chameleonic rock icon specifically cited BEAT MUSIC’s Los Angeles Improvisations as a guidepost for that album’s enrapturing sound.
“Being in the same room as David and watching him realize his vision was huge for me,” Guiliana says. “He balanced knowing from the outset what he truly wanted to do with being extremely open and creating a very democratic environment. Those are seemingly contradictory qualities, but he so beautifully danced between the two, attacking every moment in the music with great spirit and love, making the art that he believed in. I really try to carry that with me.”
BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! does that vividly, from the implacable, steamrolling pulse of opener “GIRL” through the retro sheen of “HOME” straight to the glistening reggae grooves of finale “STREAM.” The dub mesmerism of “BUD” deepens its already mysterious layers with a half-heard, one-sided phone message, while the insistent “BULLET” features a Japanese voice seeming to echo through a PA system. The dance-y “ROAST” undergirds a forceful diatribe, followed by the bouncy zigs and zags of “HUMAN.”
While most of the spoken word elements of the album are used as almost instrumental elements, introducing unpredictable textures and intriguing ambiguities into the songs, many of the pieces are also profoundly personal. “BLOOM” offers an intimate glimpse into Guiliana’s family life, with a tender moment between his wife and son. “BONES,” meanwhile, features the bandleader himself reciting a poem inspired by the recent death of his mother.
That meld of the communal and the personal is just one of many distinctive fusions that make BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! the striking and singular album that it is – including blends of the electronic and acoustic, the composed and spontaneous, and deeply-rooted inspirations channeled into perceptive, forward-looking modern invention.