In medieval times, alchemy was a mystical pursuit based on a belief that gold could be created from common raw materials. It’s an ancient practice, an idea that has long since been debunked by centuries of scientific evidence to the contrary.
Or has it? Attempts to derive precious substances from lead or tin may have been dismissed by modern-day science as a fool’s errand, but the belief that something of great value can come from something common persists. For drummer Stanton Moore, it’s just a matter of finding the right groove.
Moore proves his theory many times over with the release of Groove Alchemy on Telarc International, a division of Concord Music Group. The 12-track set is the culmination of Moore’s multimedia project that also includes an instructional book and DVD of the same name. All three facets of the project are designed to explore the roots of funk drumming by examining the work of pioneers like Jabo Starks, Clyde Stubblefield, and Zigaboo Modeliste – each of whom made their mark at different times throughout the 1960s as the engines driving James Brown’s and the Meters’ legendary rhythm sections – and in turn tracing their influences back to the rhythms coming out of New Orleans in the earlier part of the 20th century.
“I’m showing how to not only understand the roots of funk and the history of funk,” says Moore, “but also how to understand the creative processes behind it, and then how to learn from those creative processes so you can begin to make new grooves with the drums out of what was done in the past. With this project, I’ve kind of lifted the lid off the process that I go through and what’s involved whenever I put together a record.”
But Groove Alchemy is anything but a strictly academic exercise. “If you’re just a listener and a music fan, you can pick up the record and totally dig it for the music itself,” says Moore. “There’s nothing about that experience that has to be instructional. But if you’re a drummer, and you want to understand how I came up with these beats and understand the history of the music as I know it, in the hopes that you might deepen your knowledge and come up with new grooves as a result, then you can check out the book and the DVD.”
Moore’s trio on the new recording includes Robert Walter and guitarist Will Bernard – both of whom appeared on the drummer’s two previous Telarc recordings, III (2006) and Emphasis! On Parentheses (2008). Both musicians contribute heavily to the songwriting on Groove Alchemy, but Moore is clearly at the helm on this outing as he takes his trio and anyone within the sound of their collective voice on a journey that twists and turns through and around the funk tradition and digs into the heart of the New Orleans sound that contributed so significantly to its genesis.
Groove Alchemy runs the gamut of emotions – from the upbeat and festive to the broken-hearted and even spooky. It’s a cache of precious material that results from the mating of traditional and timeless elements with new and fresh musical ideas. “This is the process I go through with any record I make, although the process has been more in-depth this time,” says Moore. “I’ve explained it in detail so that people can hopefully learn something from witnessing the steps that I go through. I guess what I’ve tried to do is pull back the curtain a little bit and show what’s going on in my mind as I make a record.”