In high school in Vancouver, some friends and I would jam with a young drumming prodigy. He was technically much better than our usual drummer - way better - but utterly boring. As we bashed around on our guitars, the prodigy would do little fills and keep perfect time. It was as much fun as playing with a metronome.
That's the risk with the documentary A Drummer's Dream. When a host of the world's most acclaimed drummers gather in rural Ontario to hold a drumming camp for students and showcase their supreme talents, it's easy to predict rounds of polyrhythmic patterns and endless, deadening showboating.
Instead, this film brims with exactly the opposite. It's pure emotion. Drumming, for these masters of the instrument, is about communication, acceptance and, above all, deep love.
Their names are obscure for non-drumming fanatics: Cuban drummer Horacio (El Negro) Hernandez, all-star session player Mike Mangini, conga players Giovanni Hidalgo and Raul Rekow, and others. These are drummers' drummers. Most came through the jazz and Latin-rock scenes, specifically with Dizzy Gillespie and Santana. Others, such as Mangini, are simply the definition of Super-Drummer and have been journeymen among various supergroups.
Mangini, known as one of the fastest drummers ever, demonstrates to the students a speed pattern, with his arms crossing so quickly that it looks like trick photography. Hernandez, during his performance in the bucolic retreat, holds down Latin beats impeccably, while inserting uncannily off-rhythm inflections. They run so counter to the underlying, precise beat that they almost sound like a different record playing overtop his own drumming. But then he can amazingly bring it all back together with a single tap without ever disrupting the groove.
"Somehow, we have to manage to have that kid alive inside of us always," Hernandez says during the many interviews, which add touches of biographical insight. "Every time we sit [down at]our instrument, it is to have fun," he says in heavily Cuban-accented English.
Other funkier players, such as Dennis Chambers and Kenwood Dennard, show their knack for multiple, concurrent rhythms, played with emotion, humour and utterly equipollence. Yet it's the conga players, Hidalgo and Rekow, who show their hearts most openly. Maybe it's because the conga is simply a less complicated apparatus? Maybe because it sounds like a singular voice, compared with a large drum kit? Whatever the reason, the conga players talk more about their physical bond with the instrument.
Obviously this is a film for drummers. Many will want to buy the DVD and study it over and over until the rewind button breaks. Gearheads will also go nuts over the array of innovative drum set-ups, the multiple foot pedals, the top-of-the-line customized kits. But even those with otherwise zero interest in drum technique will be bowled over by the exuberance of such accomplished playing. Beautifully shot and recorded with a lovely sound on the highly varied drum kits, A Drummer's Dream isn't really about drumming, but about joy and self-expression.
Bashing away on our instruments, that's all we were after in our parents' basements anyway.
A Drummer's Dream
- Directed by John Walker
- Classification: NA
A Drummer's Dream opens at The Royal in Toronto on Friday (Nov. 5). Drumming masters Giovanni Hidalgo and Horacio (El Negro) Hernandez, along with director John Walker, are scheduled to appear at the 7 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday.