Dan Gottlieb Sound Impressionist
By Bob O' Donnell
Though devotees of Cezanne, Monet, and Renoir may object, the sounds which Danny Gottlieb draws from his array of drums and cymbals are as colorful and as textured as the Impressionistic masterpieces which earned those artists fame. Skillfully blending the nearly infinite variety of colors which a palette containing six sets of acoustic drums, four types of electronic drums, and nearly 50 cymbals provides him with, Glottlieb creates sound paintings of extraordinary depth and beauty. Depending upon the context he finds himself in, the moods which these paintings evoke range from profound spiritual peace to thunderous activity and motion. But they all bear the unque and colorful signature ofthe 32-year-old sonic artist. Gottlieb first came into national prominence while playing with guitarist Pat Metheny, but he's currently dividing his time between projects for two other guitar virtuosi, John McLaughin and Al Di Meola. He toured recently with McLaughlin and the reformed Mahavishnu, replacing Billy Cobham, and he just finished recording Di Meola's forthcoming record, Soaring Through A Dream. His immediate future plans include record- ing the next Mahavishnu album, doing a few dates with that band, and then spending four months touring North and South America, Europe, and Japan with Di Meola. In the meantime, Gottlieb also managed to lend his artistry to two Elements (see db, Feb. '84) co-members' solo albums, bassist Mark Egan's Mosaic and reedman Bill Evans' Alternative Man. Add the soundtrack for Blown Away, a windsurfing movie that he and Egan are currently composing, and the multi-faceted nature of Gottlieb's talent becomes apparent. But projects with guitarists seem to be his primary passion. "Somebody asked me once if I was ever a guitar player in a past life," he playfully remarked, "but I don't know. It just seems like I have great joy when I play with guitarists." The reason for this, he believes, stems more from a sociological phenomenon than a personal preference. "I think it's because of the world I've grown up in, which is the era of the Beatles and guitar-oriented music' He adds John Abercrombie, Bill Frisell, and finger-tapping sensation Stanley Jordan to his roster of guitar partners, but the triumvirate of Metheny, McLaughlin, and Di Meola have played the most important roles in his personal and artistic growth. "It's certainly an amazing shock and a wonderful feeling to have worked in this lifetime with such great musicians as Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, and Al Di Meola for starters, and I'll include Mark Egan and Bill Evans as well because I think they're tremendous musicians. But at the moment I'm really enjoying both Al's group and John's, and I want to stay with them as long as the schedules work out and the groups stay together, because I see long-term growth for both of them." His interest will remain, he claims, as long as he "never stops growing and learning and enjoying the musicl' The colorful textures which characterize Gottlieb's sound began during his days at the University of Miami, where he "leaned toward the more creative end of playing," and they reached fruition during his six-year tenure with the Pat Metheny Group. Meth- eny's lyrical explorations proved to be fertile ground for sonic experimentation. "Pat was very adamant about not doing anything that had been created before. He wanted to produce a group sound that was totally unique, and he was constantly reminding us that he wanted you to play something that could sound typical, but was not typical. The way that I applied this to the drums was to go to the cymbals instead of heavy bottom and snare drum. It wasn't a conscious thing; I just did it because it seemed to fit musically. "There was also a fine line here that I had to develop, which was if I played too traditionally jazzy, like Elvin Jones, really loose on the cymbal, it was way, way too loose because a lot of it was straight eighth-note music. If I played it like the r&b/Billy Cobham-style it was too forceful and too rigid. So there had to be a fine line between looseness and heavy drumming. What I did was to sort of emulate Airto's drumming on Chick Corea's record Light As A Feather. I mean his name isn't even on the rec- ord, but to me that was one of the strongest records that I was influenced by as far as this type of drumming is concerned. "But when I started playing with John McLaughlin I started listening to all this Indian music," he quickly added. "I've been doing some transcriptions and learning a lot about how rhythms are broken down, and I've realized that a lot of it is not cymbals, but drums and drum playing. It created a problem for me because I was very top-ended and didn't use enough bottom from the drums, so I started applying what I've learned more specifically to the drums. I also started listening to the heavier drummers, like Billy Cobham, and lots of Indian drummers, especially the guys who played in Shakti [with McLaughlin], Zakir Hussain, and a great percussionist named Trilok Gurtu. "And now with Di Meola it's a whole other thing. I have a little bit of everything with Al, which means that a lot of it is textural like Metheny, but some of it is intense like McLaughlin because he's also got tremendous chops. Al does the melodic thing as well, so his music fits between the two." His cumulative development under these artists, and the others he has recently performed with, has even further refined his sonic brushwork, particularly with regard to cym- bals. citing the work of Mel Lewis, Tony Williams, Jack De- Johnette, and current teachers Joe Morello and Gary Chester as other important influences, Gottlieb's cymbal technique produces some of the richest hues on his palette. "I'm very conscious of tonal colors and sounds when I'm playing the drums, and the context that it all fits in. Relating to the high end of the drums as much as I do and the type of music that I sometimes play, it allows me to play in different settings in a slightly different way than most people play, I guess. What it does is give me more options. I have quite a few cymbals, lots of different tonal colors, and just by loving cymbals as much as I do, it has increased my awareness of those options. A lot of times figures that could be typically played on snare drum, bass drum, and hi-hat, I will play on the cymbals, given the context that I'm playing in, because it creates a different type of feeling and a different type of atmosphere. Sometimes that approach works and is appropriate, and other times it's not appropriate at all, but the more I play, the more I become aware!' In addition to using the existing natural colors of cymbals, Gottlieb has begun creating new sounds of his own through the wonders of electronic musical instruments. Like guitarists Metheny, McLaughlin, and Di Meola, who have all become proponents of the new Synclavier guitar, Gottlieb has em- braced the possibilities which the new technology has made available. [See the accompanying Pro Session on page 56 for more information on his new electronic drum setup.] "I find the electronics really intriguing," he said enthusi- astically, "and I think it's a great time to be a musician just because of the fact that there are so many new possibilities.' His initial reaction to drum machines, however, was not as positive. "In my last year or two with Metheny, Pat wanted to use a drum machine live on stage and I, of course, in my usual insecurity was thinking, 'Oh God, he wants the time to be perfect and he's coming down on me.' So he gave me a drum machine and he said, 'Danny, I'd like you to work with it and use it' because he was using one himself "I found that once in a while I'd get mad at it, mainly because if I rushed the machine was right and I was wrong and I'd get just a little pissed, but when we had good monitors on stage and I could hear the drum machine, everything was fine. I actually found that I grew to enjoy it, because I had a chance to free myself up. I didn't have to play exactly what the machine was playing, I could space out around it, play differ- ent figures, and play a little looser while the machine kept a steady groove." Regarding other innovations in percussion, Gottlieb added, "Mahavishnu was my first excuse to really get into electronic drums. I had been looking for a situation and then when I went over to Europe and worked with John and knew I was going to continue playing with him, I went out and bought a set of Simmons SDS-7's. My original reason for getting them was because they allowed me to play very loud, but so easily. All I had to do was tap the pad and crank it up real loud and voila, I had Billy Cobham. "That was why I got them, but what I didn't know was that I was opening up a whole can of worms, because not only does that particular instrument offer you an incredible array of sounds, but it also opens up the whole question of how you amplify and how you modify those sounds. It's a tremendous amount of expense and a tremendous amount of time, but I feel that exploring electronic drums is worthwhile because it opens up some really great doors.' In fact, the creative opportunities are nearly limitless, and for Gottlieb this flexibility allows him to easily adapt his playing to the different contexts he encounters. "With these two groups, with Al and John, I can use electronics in radically different ways. With John it's real powerhouse electronics and with Al it's much more garnishes and subtleties, little additions and tonal colors for the most part. But then again, those exist in John's music too, and Al does have some rockers, so I guess there are similarities. But in either case there's a chance to expand.' Whether he chooses to express himself through acoustic or electronic means, the consistent character of Gottlieb's playing stems from Danny Gottlieb the human being. Unpretentious, open, and extremely personable, Gottlieb goes out of his way to credit the beneficial influence of people like his junior high school band director, Morty Geist, and his very first drum teacher, Meyer Sebold, in addition to all the drummers he listened to and admired during the course of his musical development. He's also willing to acknowledge the importance of establishing relationships with the other people that he performs with. "I guess I get as taken with the human beings as I do the music. There're some people that can just play with other musicians without getting involved, and I guess what you have to do in some contexts is just play the music, but I get wrapped up in the personalities. I like to feel close to the people that I'm working with. I feel it's really importantl' Having spent most of the last year touring on and off with John McLaughlin, Gottlieb's special affinity for the man is not surprising. But the respect and admiration he holds for McLaughlin can be traced to a particular time period, which Gottlieb describes as "the most intense two weeks of my life."
IN THE STUDIO: (l to r) Scott Mabuchi, assistant engineer at New York's Right Track Recording, Di Meola, and Gottlieb. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DANNY GOTTLIEB'S EQUIPMENT
"I have quite a few different drums and cymbals that I'm constantly combining, changing, and adding to as different situations demand," according to Danny Gottlieb. "ln addition to acoustic drums and cymbals I also have quite a bit of electronic equipment." [See the accompanying Pro Session on page 56 for more information on this equipment.] Danny's six sets of acoustic drums include two sets of Ludwig, which he endorses, two sets of handmade Eames drums, and two sets of Yamaha Re- cording Series drums. The Ludwig sets include14 x 20, 16 x18, 16 x 22, and 16x24 bass drums; 6x8, 7xlO, 8x12, 9xlO, 9x13, 11x12, 12x13, 13x14, 14x14, 16x16, and 16x18 toms; and 5x14 hand-hammered chrome, 5 x 14 hand-hammered bronze, 8 x 14 coliseum and 8 x 14 coliseum slotted snare drums. The Eames sets, all of which have birch drum shells and Ludwig hardware, are of two types, one nine-ply Califomia red finish and one 12-ply blonde finish. The nine-ply set has a 14 x 24 bass drum; and 9x 8, 10x 10, 11 x12, 12 x13, 14 x14, 16 x16, and 16 x18 toms. The12-ply set has 14 x18,14 x 20, and14 x 22 bass drums; and 61h x10, 8 x12,10 x 10,10 x14, 12 x 12, 12 x16, 16 x15, 16 x16, and 16 x 18 toms. The snares, which are all 15-ply, are 5 x14, 51/2 x14, 7x14, and 8x14. The Yamaha sets are blonde and sunburst. Danny's cymbals are all Paiste, which he also endorses, and his collection amounts to more than 50. Included among them are: a heavy 14-inch hi-hat, Sound Edge14-inch hi-hat, 14-inch Sound Creation hi-hat with medium top and heavy bottom, and a14-inch black Color Sound hi-hat; 20-, 22-, and 24- inch medium and thin flat ride 602s, 22-inch heavy ride 2002, 22-inch bell ride Sound Creation and 22-inch dark ride Sound Creation; 16 inch paper thin 602 crash, 22-inch paper thin 602 crash, 17-, 18-, and 20-inch medium 2002 crash, 16-inch Sound Creation New Dimension crash, 14-, 16-, 18-, 19-, 20-, and 24-inch Rude crash; 16- and 18-inch China, 18- and 20 inch Sound Creation China, 16-, 20, and 24-inch 2002 China, 18-inch Ride China, 16-, 20-, and 22-inch 2002 Novo China, 15-, 18-, and 20-inch 505 China; 11-inch 602 splash, 6-, 10-, and12-inch 2002 splash, 6, 10-, and 12-inch 505 splash; 8-, 10-, and13-inch heavy and regular Bell, and a10-inch 2002 Bell. Plus a set of Sound Creation gongs. So much for acoustic sounds. Electronically speaking, Danny uses Dynacord Electronic Drums, which he endorses, Simmons SDS-7s, a Cooper Sound Chest II, and an Oberheim DMX drum machine, and various combinations of the following : Carvin 1686 board, Lexicon 200 Digital reverb, MXR Digital Delay, lbanez Digital Delay, Valley People Dyna-mite noise gate, a Yamaha Dx-7 synthesizer a Casio Cz 101 synthesizer. And a rack of New Products (distributed by Europa Tech.) that includes a Quantec Room Simulator Window Recorder, and Programmable Parametric Equalizer. Regarding sticks and heads Gottlieb's list is equally lengthy. He uses Ludwig, Vic Firh, Calato, and colored Hot Sticks in three different sizes, 58, 25, and 35. His drum head choices include Ludwig Silver Dots, Ludwig Clears, Remo clear Ambassadors, Remo clear Diplomats and coated heads for brushes. He relates: "I had just come home [from the first Mahavishnu tour] and I wasn't sure if I was going to get to continue because I was only hired for that one tour, and John wasn't sure of what he wanted to do. So, of course, I got real depressed and thought, 'Oh God, I blew my chance,'because I had ap- proached it the way I normally do, which is playing a lot of colors and textures, and I got the sense that he needed something more, but I didn't know what it was. Then he called me later and said, 'Danny, listen, I'd like you to come back to Europe and I want to work, just the two of us, and then we'll continue and you're in the band. So I, of course, ran around like a nut, freaking out, and then I flew over to Paris, he met me, we drove down to Monte Carlo, where he lives. We rented a rehearsal studio in Nice for two weeks, and he proceeded to put me through quite an intense two weeks where we played every day, six hours a day. "The first week was incredibly hard and I wasn't really doing very well, because we had to play all the songs we had played on the road, but with just the two of us. I then realized he needed something heavier, or as he put it, 'More passion from the drums.' But then he started showing me a lot of where his rhythmic concept was coming from, which is Indian music and rhythms, and it opened up a whole new world for me, com- pletely different. And one day I started to get a handle on it and he heard it in my playing and we both started laughing. I had found out what he was getting at, so the second week went much better' Gottlieb's enlightenment was not limited solely to new musical ideas and rhythmic concepts, however. "The two weeks I spent with John affected me as a human being, first of all. I was so taken with his approach to life and music and how he deals with it in his life that it was just a big revelation to be around him. Something that he would say is that being a musician you have to suffer; you have to go through intense periods where things don't go right and it's just all part of it. And one thing that he portrayed was a lot of patience and understanding and a willingness to share his knowledge. I found that incredibly inspiring. "I also found he was a virtuoso musician and that was inspiring enough right there. Plus the fact that he was so heavily influenced by Indian drumming, music I found to be quite interesting. We'd listen to Indian drummers and he'd say, 'Danny, these are drummers talking to you in your language, the drumsl And I said, 'You are so right, I can't believe I've given such little priority to this type of drumming and this type of music.' Now, having been fully exposed to the fascinating complex- ities of Indian music, Gottlieb has become one of its most fervent students. He plans to examine it in further detail and hopes to some day share some of his insights. " I'm hoping over the years to do some really serious study. In fact, one of the projects I'd like to do is work on a book with a couple of other drummers. There's a drummer named Jamie Haddad who studied with R. Raghavan, who was the mridangam player on the first Shakti record, and we've talked about trying to write a book along with Trilok on how to integrate these rhythms in an Americanized kind of way.' Gottlieb's future plans also include work which will allow him to incorporate all the various influences he has recently been exposed to. The primary outlet for these creative amal- gamations will be Elements, the band he co-leads with bassist Mark Egan. "I see tremendous growth for Elements, with Mark, and [saxophonist] Bill [Evans] and [keyboardist] Cliff [Carter]. I think it'll be a long-term thing where each of us will be constantly playing with other people and then coming back to Elements and playing, utilizing all the new things we've learned. "Another personal goal for me is a solo record, which I hope to do in '86," he enthused. "The concept could go a lot of different ways because I like so many different kinds of music. Basically I want something that covers a wide variety of music but makes my playing the unifying factor. I want to utilize lots of tonal colors from acoustic drums of all sizes, lots of percussion and cymbal colors, and I want to make as much use of the electronics as I can because that's a whole other palette to choose from.' For the present, however, Gottlieb is quite satisfied to be making music and creating sonic textures with both McLaughlin and Di Meola. Like the many other artists with whom he has worked, the two guitarists have provided him with an opportunity for growth. "Whenever you get around great musicians they all have something to offer, and if you're open enough to pick up on it, or just let yourself be open, you can really enjoy the experi- ence. I mean it can be frustrating with any group at some point, because when you have five people it's five people painting a picture together at the same time. Yet these contexts can be so rewarding because often there's plenty of space to do your own thing. So I just feel grateful to have been around the people that I have.' The feeling, undoubtedly, is mutual. Danny Gottlieb's Drum Technology by Bob O' Donnell Drum technology has not kept pace with the rapid advancements that keyboard synthesists have been able to enjoy in recent years, but the trend has begun to reverse. With the influence that Simmons' electronic drums and the LinnDrum have made on contemporary music, more and more creative percus- sionists are experimenting with the many options which electronics provide; this, in turn, has influenced the develop- ment of new products. Danny Gottlieb has immersed himself in this sea of tech- nological marvels and finds the rewards for doing so fascinating. He is par- ticularly interested in the complex com- binations that triggering/interface de- vices allow for. "I'm just beginning to realize how MIDI and other triggering methods apply to the drums, how they allow you to combine subtle little sounds from a number of different sources. I've yet to really test them out, but I'm imag- ining the possibilities and it's going to be incredible.' Gottlieb's proposed electronic drum system (he admits it's still in the develop- ment stage) was designed by drummer/ engineer Vince Gutman, who also hap- pens to manufacture, through his com- pany Mirc, a self-designed triggering device called the MXI. The heart of Gottlieb's new setup, the MXI allows him to trigger any sound source, including electronic drum "brains," drum ma- chines, or synthesizers, from any elec- tronic drum pad or, via Gutman's Deto- nator pickups, any acoustic drum. Gutman explains, "With this system, Danny's going to be able to take a variety of different sound sources that he al- ready owns, such as the Oberheim DMX drum machine, a Simmons SDS7, a Cooper Sound Chest II (modular drum synthesizer), Dynacord drums, a Win- dow Recorder (sampler), and a DX7 and Casio CZ-101 synthesizer, and he'll be able to trigger all of them, either individ- ually or collectively, at will. In other words, he can cut in and out of all those devices and at any given time have all of them triggering, only certain elements of them triggering, or none of them trig- gering via a footswitch that he'll have right next to him. Everything that he'll be using, be it an acoustic drum or an electronic drum pad, will go through the MXI system and be transformed at that point into usable electronic status. As a result, he'll be able to transfer all of his dynamics either into MIDI, through the MX-MIDI for the synthesizers and other MIDI devices; or dynamic trigger pulses for the Simmons and Dynacord; or non- dynamic pulses for the DMX, which can then be given dynamics by the MXE.' 'The accompanying chart, illustrating the signal flow that Gutman was refer- ring to, should make the system a bit easier to comprehend.
Hitting either an electronic drum pad or an acoustic drum with a Detonator pickup attached to it produces an electronic pulse which is sent to the MXI. At this point, because of varying manufacturers' specifications, each pulse will be individually altered by the MXI to properly trigger the various electronic drum sounds. From here the various pulses are sent to the rack- mounted Logic Switching Distribution Controller, remotely controlled by a foot- switch, through which Gottlieb will determine the sound sources to be used. From there the chosen trigger pulses are sent to their respective destinations. The audio from each of these sources then travels to two Carvin mixing boards, which will also be located within Gott- lieb's reach. The non-dynamic audio of the DMX, however, is first sent to the MXE where it is mixed with dynamic signals from the MXI to create dynamic audio before being sent to the mixers. Similarly, sig- nals from the MXI are sent to the MX- MIDI which, in turn, triggers the syn- thesized drum-like patches on the two synthesizers before being sent to the mixing boards. Once at the boards, Gott- lieb will process these signals through a Lexicon 200 digital reverb, a Quantec room simulator, and a Valley People Dy- namite noise gate/limiter before having them sent to the speakers. The creative possibilities (and poten- tial problems) of this system are almost frightening and Gottlieb admits that he is a bit concerned. "I'm a little worried, to tell you the truth, because there's a lot to think about. I'm going to have to spend some serious time with this equipment, and it's not going to come easy. Of course, I can get a basic sound and mess around and have some fun, but to really find what wtorks well is definitely going to take a lot of time. For the rest of our lives we're going to be working on sounds, but then again, why not? What else is there really? I mean, we are trying to make music.'