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Craig Pilo - Drummer Boy

Los Angeles Music Award Winner “Best Jazz Artist” for Just Play (2007)

Drummer Boy is the new solo release by Rue De La Harpe recording artist, Craig Pilo. Craig has sidestepped his career as a Frankie Valli sideman for the past 9 years to venture into his third solo project. This CD tackles arrangements by Michele Weir, Randy Waldman, Vince Guaraldi, Bob James, Robby Robinson, Keith Jarrett, Bart Samolis, Chris Smith and Craig, himself. The CD caters to jazz enthusiasts who enjoy explosive solos, and some new arrangements of familiar holiday standards. Chris Smith and Bart Samolis join Craig to provide the foundation and primary rhythm section on Drummer Boy, but guest artists include: Mitchel Forman, Ric Fierabracci, Robby Robinson, and Rex Robinson.

Craig Pilo is a graduate of the University of North Texas College of Music and his career as a sideman has aligned him with some of the best in the business. Maynard Ferguson, Edgar Winter, Frankie Valli, Pat Boone, Player, and Billy Vera are a select few of the artists from the last decade. In addition, he’s done a lot of studio work around Los Angeles, recording drums and producing music for numerous films and TV shows. Be sure to visit his IMDB page for a more comprehensive listing of credits.

He’s produced four CD’s over the last 7 years; Just Play (2007), Expressionism (2008), Unsupervised (2011), and now Drummer Boy in 2014, all for Rue de la Harpe Records. When he’s not touring, composing, or producing, he can be seen around Los Angeles with a slew of artists from pop to jazz. Visit www.craigpilo.com and join his mailing list for the most up-to-date tour schedule, news, and pictures.

REVIEW

Drummer Boy, Craig Pilo's third solo album release as drummer and bandleader, features The Craig Pilo Trio with Bart Samolis on bass, Chris Smith on keys, and of course, Craig Pilo on drums. Special guests include bassist Ric Fierabracci on track five, organist Robby Robinson and bassist Rex Robinson on track seven, and Mitchel Forman playing the Fender Rhodes on track ten.

This Christmas themed CD contains jazz instrumental arrangements of ten holiday tunes; traditional hymns to seasonal favorites.

While listening to the album for the first time, I quickly noticed how difficult it was going to be for me to review the album, simply because its well-balanced diversity would not be easy to easy to define with a single label.

The opening track is the classic hymn, "O Come, All Ye Faithful," arranged by Michele Weir and adapted by Craig Pilo. The sound and feel of the track resembles a fusion of "Pools" by Steps Ahead and Billy Cobham's "Stratus;" I love it. Pilo's sixteenth-note groove on this track really breathes, varing between a more relaxed backbeat in the bass drum (quasi-reggae) during the break down sections, to a more driving feel with the backbeat on the snare. With this trio setting, Craig is really able to stretch out, as noted in the displaced, blushda influenced fills as well as the single-stroke flurries around the tom toms.

Craig Pilo - Drummer Boy

Interestingly, the second cut is "My Favorite Things," which is not really a Christmas tune per se, although I assume that the winter-related imagery found in the original lyrics has led many to adopt the tune has a Christmas song. Like many popular songs from musicals, "My Favorite Things" is no stranger to the jazz library. In this arrangement by Randy Waldman, the feel is swung and in triple meter (a jazz waltz, as is the norm), but shows its freshness in the harmonic structure and ensemble figures. Towards the end of the track Pilo caps the track by trading 2's on the drums before winding it all down with the upright bass quoting the melody.

"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" is a unique, upbeat and fun arrangement by Craig Pilo. The tune opens with a heart-felt introduction on the rhodes keyboard (reminds me of "Spain" as played by Chick Corea and Return to Forever) then kicks into a syncopated drum groove in 6/4 (or 3/4 half-time feel). When the melody starts, the groove shifts to 5/4 for the first half, then back into simple triple meter where it remains for the bulk of the track including solo sections. The tune closes with Pilo stretching out on the drums with some displacement and implied metric-modulation.

The trio does great justice to the Vince Guaraldi classic, "Christmas Time Is Here." The silky performance with rhodes keyboard and upright bass, plus the wonderful brush work by Craig, definitely put me in the mood for some hot chocolate and the desire to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The Bob James arrangement of "Angels We Have Heard on High," is the fifth track with the trio. Even if you are familiar with the Four Play rendition, which is guitar driven, you'll truly appreciate this version which focuses on the bass and keyboards.

"What Child Is This?" is a medium swing, straight-ahead jazz arrangement in 4/4 time (the original song is in 3/4) featuring the piano.

In the funky, black gospel arrangement by Robby Robinson, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" features some greasy organ, finger-popping electric bass and fatback drums. This track is sure to have you toe-tapping and moving in your chair ... that is if you can stay seated that long.

I remember first hearing and loving the Keith Jarrett arrangement of "God Bless The Child" with his trio. Although it's not really a Christmas tune, I guess the spiritual nature of the lyric makes for a good fit.  The Craig Pilo trio has certainly done a wonderful job with this tune and arrangement; I especially enjoyed the drum groove. 

"White Christmas" is a hip, upbeat arrangement from keyboardist, Chris Smith. Pilo's shuffle groove is a nice treat and really makes the tune special.

The final cut is a Bart Samolis arrangement of "Little Drummer Boy." Another upbeat rendition of the holiday classic, this is probably the most through-composed sounding track on the CD. With all of the syncopation within the groove and ensemble figures, it certainly doesn't sound anything close to the standard approach — the band playing the head of the tune, soloing, and closing it out. Towards the end of the tune, Pilo does some spontaneous soloing over the ensemble figures until the fadeout.

I have heard a lot Christmas themed albums over the years, all churning out the somewhat limited selection of classic holiday tunes to choose from. However, I found Drummer Boy to be unique and very refreshing in that there was a pleasant blend of styles, improvisation and production quality. The musicians were able to express themselves within the jazz art-form in such a way that makes the music accessible to all audiences in a variety of listening settings.

For drum fans, there is a lot of great drumming from Craig Pilo — no surprises there. There is also percussion programming on just about each track. Although often times extremely subtle in the mix, it makes the instrumental trio sound amazingly larger than they truly are. Drummer Boy is sure to be a nice addition to anyone's Christmas music collection. Merry Christmas!