Coat Of Arms: Music for Solo Drumset
USA SOUNDYARD 001 CD (2012)
There is a drawing of a literal ‘coat of arms’ on the front of the CD wallet. A piece of clothing made of arms and hands. A reference, for sure, to the agility of this drummer/composer, Leo Ciesa, whose movements are apparently sometimes too fast for the eye to follow whenever he is going for it behind his drum kit. The title and drawing are a play of words of course, and we read on the back that it “reflects his interest in seeing and hearing beyond the obvious”.
The agility and the ‘beyond the obvious” I directly believe when listening into his CD. The wallet explains that we are listening to Leo Ciesa “powerful, melodic, polyrhythmic, compositional and virtuosic drumming. (…) Twenty-two distinct solo-pieces on a basic traditional drumset without any overdubbing or layering.”
His skill is undoubtedly high and Ciesa showcases on this album all the different sides of solo drumming that spark his interest and passion. Pieces are short, with an average length of two minutes. One longer piece, “Sweet Butter”, sticks out. The rest of the CD feels like quick dips into the sea of sound that Ciesa is able to create, which leaves a listener like me rather frustrated at times. Often, the moment something interesting is established, the piece already stops. It makes the listening experience somewhat cerebral, as piece after piece, different ideas are showcased, but nothing is given the time to mystify, bewitch or enthuse the listener. The feeling is that of an album of ‘modern etudes for solo drumset’ rather than ‘music for solo drumset’ as the subtitle suggests. And this is a shame because the musical potential of what Leo Ciesa is offering us is high.
Drumming, even the contemporary type, can usually really lift me up and drive emotional vibes through my body and in Leo Ciesa’s virtuosic playing, there are in principle all the ingredients to do just that. But just as I start getting carried away in a beautifully frantic piece like “I’ve got an accent” (2:25) or the weird, slow and mystifying “Emotional Cream Sauce” (1:58) it – just stops!
Due to this, the only longer piece on the CD – “Sweet Butter” (6:40) – really feels like a relief. Finally we are allowed to dwell a little bit in a sea of rhythms, and get engulfed by the music.
All in all, it makes for a CD that seems to be recorded for fellow drummers, showcasing ideas. I am no percussionist myself, so I am not qualified to say something about what the album potentially could mean for that insiders community, but after checking his website, it seems that Ciesa indeed has this audience in mind. All tracks of the CD are described there in a technical fashion. For the aforementioned “Sweet Butter” (track 9): “This African rhythms inspired piece starts with a 5 way independence intro. Entering one by one, it begins with the right foot on the bass drum playing 2, followed by the left foot on the bass drum (double pedal) playing 3, then the left foot heel on the hi-hat playing 6, the right hand on the floor tom playing 4 and last, the left hand on the rack tom playing 8. (…)”
On the back of the wallet, we read: “Creativity, curiosity, emotionality and spontaneity characterize this iconoclastic and highly personal work”. I do believe immediately that this describes Leo Ciesa’s musicianship well, but to really experience it, my ears and soul would need a different type of album. I guess with 22 minutes per piece, stringing together different ideas and letting them cook for while so that I can taste them, rather than 22 pieces per CD where I am only allowed to look at the ingredients, the whole listening experience would be totally different.
Concerning the emotional and ‘highly personal’ side of Leo Ciesa’s musicianship, Coat of Arms only allows us a few glimpses. I would be curious to hear more of it. For the moment, Ciesa holds it off by offering us only very short, though undoubtedly exciting, dips into the waters of his solo drumming universe. I am looking forward to an album with much longer dives!