The Milwaukee jazz drummer celebrates the release of a wide-ranging new album. Info
Milwaukee-based drummer Devin Drobka is one of the reasons Milwaukee and Madison have developed such youthful and versatile jazz communities over the past decade, organizing Milwaukee's Unrehearsed series and forming bands that range from the spacey Argopelter to the fiery Hanging Hearts. Outside of jazz, he also plays in the latest incarnation of Milwaukee band Field Report. (Full disclosure: He also played a duo set with drummer Tom Rainey at a show Tone Madison organized in 2017.) Amid all this collaboration, Drobka's Bell Dance Songs project is explicitly an outlet for his own original compositions, and a project where he can take the lead in some intense improvisation. Drobka focused on through-composed material and a quartet format (including Madison bassist John Christensen) on the project's self-titled 2014 release, but the new album Amaranth, which he'll celebrate at this show, heads into far more unpredictable territory.
Drobka's drumming takes on a richly improvisational feel throughout this record, always blurring the line between the spontaneous and the composed. He rarely seems interested in playing the conventional role of a drummer here, and he's forgone a conventional format too, collaborating with bassist Aaron Darrell and three saxophonists—Daniel Blake, Chris Weller, and Patrick Breiner (who also contributes clarinet and bass clarinet). This approach makes for multi-layered cacophony on "Jake's Theme" and a slow-building, eerie meld of reed sounds on "Three Sisters," a composition that feels almost like an ambient drone piece. Opening track "Skip Skip" finds Drobka and collaborators engaging in something of a classic explosive free-jazz workout, except when they all pull together on an unmistakable, lurching melodic theme. And three "Interlude" tracks placed throughout the record find all involved streching out still further. Amaranth opens up myriad possibilities for an already very versatile drummer/composer. Drobka will explore more of them in a trio set at East Johnson Street's cozy Macha Tea company, with bassist Jakob Heinemann and saxophone player Mike Bjella. The $10 cover charge includes a CD copy of the album. —Scott Gordon