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Five Drummers Whose Time is Now

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Drumming is jazz’s foundation, but it’s also where the music makes its deepest adjustments.

Ten years ago jazz suddenly started to sound different, and drumming had a lot to do with it. Not everything, but a lot. At the time Nasheet Waits, Rodney Green, John Hollenbeck, Eric Harland and Daniel Freedman were among those developing their own identities but also connecting everything through groove and pulse: making traditional jazz rhythm fit with free improvisation, Afro-Cuban music, funk, Middle Eastern music, classical percussion.

Those five, whom I wrote about in 1999, have helped widen the language of jazz. Here are five who have come to light more recently. They’re all finding new ways to look at the drum set, and at jazz itself. Despite the demise of the JVC Jazz Festival, which would ordinarily run this month in New York, this city is a jazz festival year-round. They’re part of what makes it so.

Marcus Gilmore

Marcus Gilmore, 22, is the grandson of Roy Haynes, jazz’s most important living drummer, but he has proved his own virtues quickly. Around the winter of 2004-5 he created that pleasant citywide buzz when someone new and special blows through New York clubs and jam sessions. Now you can hear him regularly, playing with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Nicholas Payton, Vijay Iyer, Ambrose Akinmusire, Yosvany Terry, Gretchen Parlato and others.

Before graduating from LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan, Mr. Gilmore had serious nonacademic training; his bandleaders were some of his teachers. One was the saxophonist Steve Coleman, who uses the Afro-Cuban clave rhythm in unusual patterns. At 15, Mr. Gilmore started rehearsing and performing with Mr. Coleman.

“I met Steve through my uncle,” he said last week in a cafe near his apartment in Harlem. (His uncle, Graham Haynes, is a trumpeter.) “Steve introduced me to concepts that I really wasn’t used to. He’d play me a line on the saxophone, a low note for the bass drum and a high note for the snare. And he’d just keep looping it till I got it. I guess his type of structures are kind of abnormal. The first time I finally got one of those tunes down, my head hurt. But I felt like I was smarter and stronger.”

Mr. Gilmore tends to work for bandleaders who write complex music, which he phrases with a rolling grace and swing, adding furtive microfills of funk. The demands of the compositions have shaped his style; it sounds natural and never looks easy.

“I always wanted to be a drummer who knew how to get around the drums,” he said, “but also I wanted to be a taste drummer — someone who knows how to interact, as opposed to bashing out everything. I want to be musical.”

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