About fifteen years ago, drummer Andrew Drury was scheduled to play a duet with the Canadian avant-garde cellist Peggy Lee, but she forgot to bring her electronic pickup. Realizing that traditional drumming would completely overwhelm the unamplified cello, he toned down his own sound, using his hands to rub and scrape his drum set, eliciting creaks and other non-standard sounds and rarely resorting to the use of drumsticks. Taking this experience to heart, he has continued to use unorthodox sound-making devices, from bows to bells, to expand the palette of the drum set.
Drury was raised in Seattle, where he studied drums from a young age and became involved with the most progressive musicians in the area. At Wesleyan University he learned from the great New Orleans drum master Ed Blackwell, whose influence he cherishes to this day. Blackwell, perhaps best remembered for his work with Ornette Coleman, combined the Crescent City’s lilting rhythms with modern jazz and African elements to create a propulsive polyrhythmic style that was melodic, varied, and complex yet still danceable. Blackwell seemed to live inside his drums, and Drury is very much the same: he seems organically immersed in his instruments, so that his music emerges from his body and soul. He can play in bands of any size but can also create hour-long recitals with just one floor tom drum. He can ride the rhythm with power, then lay out in silence or complement a soloist with the kind of unconventional sounds he used with Peggy Lee’s cello.
These days Drury works as a composer, performer, and music presenter in various contexts, from bands with notated melodies to completely free improvisations. These qualities will be evident this month when he plays at the twenty-first annual Edgefest. This year’s festival is dedicated to percussion, and Drury, who was involved in the artistic planning, will perform in three different musical environments.
On October 20 at the Kerrytown Concert House he will lead the band Content Provider, a vehicle for his own compositions, with Ingrid Laubrock, Briggan Kraus, and guitarist Brendan Seabrook. Drury’s complex melodies, sometimes seemingly Middle Eastern in inspiration, combine with skronk guitar and shifting, driving rhythms to create an irresistible wall of sound that seems impossible for such a small group. The next day he will lead a large ensemble playing his compositions at Bethlehem United Church of Christ. With the U-M Creative Arts Orchestra and other musicians, he will exploit the acoustics of the place and utilize various compositional techniques to create clarity rather than density. He may even incorporate movement and costume.
Drury will open the festival at a free concert at Encore Records on October 17 in a free improvisational trio with the astounding multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee and this writer on various woodwinds.