Chris Dave & The Drumhedz @ 170 Russell

19 June 2018

This review is part of our coverage of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Chris Dave has been called one of the best drummers in the world today, and as the audience expectantly waits in a darkened basement on a chilly Melbourne evening, the anticipation is palpable. After starting their set an hour after scheduled, you’d think that the music nerds and jazz fans would be hard to win over, but Dave and his band, the Drumhedz, are so technically proficient and engaging that the room is buzzing and grooving along happily as soon as the set begins.

After the sestet’s first piece, with renowned young saxophonist Marcus Strickland unexpectedly, literally emerging from the shadows on sax, Dave bashfully gets up from his kit to address the audience, admitting that he “hate[s] this part” of the performance. As he instructs everyone to close their eyes and open their “ears and minds” to the “musical journey” that we’ll be following for the next ninety minutes, it seems striking that a musician so seasoned in the public eye would be embarrassed to address a crowd of hundreds.

It’s a rare reminder of human imperfections in a performance that is otherwise a flawless example of the awe-inspiring capabilities of musicians to transport and transform their listeners. In fact, Dave’s sheer technical, polyrhythmic sorcery, speed, and ability to captivate a crowd like few other drummers alive, is often mind-boggling to the point of feeling almost inhuman. Incorporating four snare drums, his signature bongos, and with his unique spiralised cymbals hanging down on either side of his kit, Dave’s creative set up has been likened to something magical, a “wizard’s laboratory” where a fusion of jazz, hip-hop, RNB, rock, and funk is brewed into a heady, invigorating concoction.

Playing with complex time signatures whilst remaining approachable and groovy is a difficult balancing act, but Dave and his band are in such tight sync throughout the set that the whole performance truly sweeps the audience away on a musical journey. The seamlessness is only occasionally broken by minor sound issues, with the levels sometimes temporarily skewing to the point where one or two instruments are drowned out. Chris Dave and his magical drums, however, remain loud, clear and intoxicating, the true shining stars of a long, captivating set that somehow feels far too short. Let’s hope that the musical journey with the Drumhedz will continue at next year’s jazz fest.

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