On the eve of famed Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s upcoming 20-city tour this summer with guitarist Steve Kimock, bassist George Porter, Jr.,vocalist Jen Durkin and talking drum master Sikiru Adepoju, Shout Factory has released a series of reissue CDs by Mickey Hart that include Planet Drum, Diga Rhythm Band, At the Edge, Supralingua and Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box.
As a nod to the changing technology since the original release of these recordings, Shout Factory is offering up for the first time digital downloads of these titles. I am sometimes skeptical of reissues, but the promo copies of Planet Drum and At the Edge we received are such stellar CDs that if you don’t have them in your collection you should.
Planet Drum is chocked full of interlocking, intertwined rhythms from across the globe intended to carry the listener off to uncharted territories, as with opening track "Udu Chant" shot through with exotic bird calls, udu drum, tabla and Hart’s created instrument the "beam." The CD picks up momentum with "Island Groove" with its slow samba rhythm and Yoruban overtones and Babatunde Olatunji’s plummy vocals. "Light Over Shadow," the wildly infectious rhythms of "Dance of the Hunter’s Fire" and the haunting sounds of "Temple Caves" will leave the listener breathless.
The bell improvisation in "Evening Samba" is stunningly inventive. And that is I think that innovative spirit is the core of Mr. Hart’s vision with Planet Drum and his creation of a new musical landscape. Teaming with Zakir Hussain, the late Babatunde Olatunji, T.H. Vikku Vinayakram, Flora Purim,Airto Moreira,Giovanni Hidalgo, among others, Mr. Hart has blown apart expectations of the standard drum solo and propelled percussion into uncharted territories.
Also on reissue is the CD At the Edge. I marveled at this CD when it came out, so revisiting the music on it seems almost nostalgic, but what was surprising was that I didn’t find the compositions dated. The music is still captivating and fresh. Opening with "#4 For Gaia" with its forest sounds, rainstick and rattles, the listener is transported to some magical rain forest. "Sky Water" with Zakir Hussain on processed table and tuned metal drums, Jerry Garcia on electric guitar and Mickey Hart on processed bell conjures fantastical images in this long, lush track.
The blazing, fast and furious "Fast Sailing" and the meaty, rich sounds of "The Eliminators" are mesmerizing pieces. "Brainstorm," written by Mr. Hart and Babatunde Olatunji is splendid, but then with Mr. Olantunji playing jembe could it be bad?
Planet Drum and At the Edge are two worthy reissues. So if you haven’t heard them you should and if you’ve hoarding a borrowed version of either it’s time to return it to its proper owner and buy your own copies.