Most commonly seen pounding the skins behind world class musicians including Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Sting, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr can turn his hand from heavy straight forwards, crashing, good old rock ‘n’ roll to the smooth groove of jazz (and everything inbetween).
While songs such as Clapton’s Layla or McCartney’s Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five may sound like they are complex songs to drum on, but this is not the case: they are in fact reletively simple. Especially for a drummer of Abe Laboriel Jr’s calibre. Just a straightforward rhythm with a few twiddly bits here and there just driving the song forwards. It works, it rocks, and Abe has mastered it.
But jazz is a different ballgame altogether: syncopated rhythms, strange, changing time signatures, and allowing the laid back mood influence the groove are all part of what being a good jazz drum player is about. And it is a testament to not only Abe’s cool and relaxed personality but the level of his drum playing that he is able to switch back and forth from stadium rocker to jazz lounge groover.
But Abe contributes a lot of his musicianship to his father (and legendary jazz bassist) Abe Laboriel Sr. “The two things he would enforce were groove and time,” said Abe in an interview with the allabaoutjazz website. “When we would jam together, he would make sure I kept that focus. My Dad’s understanding of syncopation is heavy. When playing Jazz, he would make sure I kept the melody in mind while playing time. He would have me play the melody on the drum kit. This was invaluable to me and when we play together now, we know exactly where we are in the song. There’s this unspoken language that we have from our history of jamming so much. My father has taught me practically everything I know.”
In the video below Abe performs the song Cocktail at the jazz club The Baked Potato in Studio City, California. Alongside him are his father on bass, Michael Landau on guitar, and Scott Kinsey guesting for band founder Greg Mathieson on keyboards. Together that band work the form of jazz brilliantly, playing songs in a funky style while treating the song as a jazz standard with Abe Jr giving the song a laid back drive and proving that less really is more.
This performance not only shows that you don’t have to rock in order to groove, but that Abe doesn’t need a groove to rock.