Review: “Groove Alchemy”, Stanton Moore (Hudson Music). This DVD is the best, most comprehensive resource available to the drummer who wants to play funkier, New Orleans-influenced rhythms…credibly!

Review of Stanton Moore's DVD Groove Alchemy

Review: Groove Alchemy, Stanton Moore

(Hudson Music) DVD $29.99 US

Recommended levels: intermediate to advanced.

Book with play-along MP3 available

separately or packaged with DVD. Check details at Hudson Music.

Too many choices (“too little…”). If you could use a little help winding your way through the racks of DVDs seeking the real funk, here it is:  Buy Groove Alchemy, the latest (2010-11) release from New Orleans’ new favoriteson, Stanton Moore. While Hudson Music catalogs a book/DVD combo, if you’re on a budget, begin with the DVD. I feel so strongly I’d offer a personal guarantee but I think I hear MasterCard calling on the other line.

Don’t tell me you don’t have the dough. For less than you’ll spend after tonight’s gig at the Jack in the Box drive-thru,  you can own this DVD, which provides nutrition that lasts, not hot air that escapes before you pull into the driveway.

When I’m watching this DVD, it’s like Stanton is sitting on my basement couch explaining how Ziggy transformed Stanley “Rat” Ratcliff’s 2-sticks-on-hats approach, adding a stroke here,  subtracting one there, into the familiar “Cissy Strut” (ed: thanks to Paul S for correcting my orig. “Sissy”) pattern, which may surprise you if you’ve attempted it. Then Stanton’s up and playing my drums—and pulling off his licks so clean and crisp I’m humbled. Trust me on this. It’s gone down recently and this DVD is the closest thing.

That’s the beauty of Groove Alchemy. It hangs with you, operating at your level, until you master the grooves you’ve heard on James Brown, the Meters, and a host of other heritage recordings. Stanton knows that it’s going to take you a while. It’s taken him years and he didn’t want to blurt out any answers until this signficant juncture on his journey. His research is exhaustive and, in the true spirit of the seeker, he admits past mistakes and explains his faux pas, then outlines in detail how he corrected them.

With respect, more instructors ought to adopt Stanton’s open-minded attitude; his readiness to embrace new concepts—and play them at this incredible level!

I’m a slow learner, or so I’ve been told for years. I’m happy slow: I enjoy the process…if not the progress. I’m only about 20-minutes into this DVD—and not from a standing start. I thought I knew a lot of this stuff but, as I can see, I got a lot of it wrong. Stanton deals with my sort of drummer with the patience of a saint, slowing grooves down, zooming in on salient limbs, and going beyond mere drum beats to the historical/cultural contexts.

Context is everything when it comes to understanding notions such as “playing in the cracks”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone explain better than Stanton how the tension between straight and swung eighths came about and where drummers can take it without sounding like a caricature of vaudeville—or swing or stiff-straight up eighths (like the metal windup monkey who is currently winking at me from up there on the shelf).

Okay, I fibbed a little. While I am, indeed, at the 20-minute mark, so says my Sony DVD player, I’ve cheated…more than once…and advanced so I could check out the songs. It is a treat watching and listening to Stanton hand-in-glove with Robert Walter, whose grainy Hammond harkens to the once popular organ trio era.

But then I return and attempt to do an honest job of it. Stanton is the ideal teacher. He loves nothing to guesswork from sticks to drum tuning. He’ll suggest, for example, how to incorporate, say, George L Stone exercise 33 into some hybrid funk pattern. Stanton might turn to indigenous New Orleans Indian rhythms or, perhaps, to the cascara, executing it via right hand, never crossing the clavé.

What you learn is that although New Orleans is known for its funky cuisine, these drum patterns are not gumbo—the result of throwing this and that into a pot and stirring wildly. The major New Orleans players, from the time before James Black, even, all wove their respective threads into this tapestry. And Stanton Moore is now doing his part, contributing some to the weave and disentangling as well—for the sake of sharing knowledge. Ain’t no wrongs to be righted!

I may get around to a closer look at the book Groove Alchemy once I’m past the DVD. Here again I’ve cheated, dancing over to the book from the DVD, more out of interest than want of direction. I learn better this way. It’s my ADD speaking…or maybe it was AD-something else I’ve been diagnosed with so late in life. Point is, you will learn your way, too, and in your own good time.  Stanton will be there patiently, carefully, and disarmingly casually rendering this tricky material…like he’s falling off a log. He plays his heart out, literally.

I should take a moment and single out Rob and Paul, Hudson Music. This is not a couple of Zoom cameras; it’s the most professional music videography operation on the face of the earth. Then we have Joe Bergamini, who edited the current DVD, and Rick Gratton, a legendary (and funky) drummer who moonlights here as music engraver. No flies, no flaws, nothing amiss.

Veteran drummers, instructors, and music journalists rant on about “funk” but few come close to Stanton Moore, who marches without fail in Mardi Gras, in word or gesture. So what is funk, when all is said and done?

Groove Alchemy is what it is.