I first came into contact with Drew Shoals in between sets at a CD release show in Eugene, Oregon last year when he was playing drums for the non-vocal jazz group, the Ben Darwish Trio. The guy just had a cool vibe about him as he went through a set which included frenetic ditties, romantic ballads and even lounge-style covers of Alice in Chains and Christina Aguilera. He smiled as he played, he grooved with the time of each tune and spent nary a second going through the motions of just banging away at the drums. You could tell this was a cat who dug the tunes he was playing.
Now on his own debut recording, The Greatest Haven’t Been Born Yet, Shoals is taking his love for music to new heights. “Meteor Showers” is a perfect example of his significant talent, as his drumming mirrors the overall effect of a meteor shower. The sounds range from quiet to bold and raucous; from an ethereal, dancing-along-the-edges-of-the-song sort of feel, to the hang-onto-your-hats-while-I-blaze-through-a-variety-of-sounds explosion about halfway through. Like watching a meteor shower, it can be languid and quiet, or it can be explosive and exciting, but it’s at it’s best when it somehow manages to be both.
Opener “Maternity Warden” and “Fertile Crescent” both sound like tracks that just barely missed making the cut for the film Out of Sight, with their Detroit-style �70s funk/jazz. They’re funky, sexy and moody enough to be played in lounges everywhere. Likewise, a sexy saxophone sound leads the way for Shoals and Company on the lively “Playing the Field (A Discus Saga).”
Being in another non-vocal band, Shoals’ efforts are even more remarkable because there is no lyrical or singing talent to assess – it’s all about the actions speaking louder than words, so to speak. Rarely repeating himself or sticking with a standard drum beat, Shoals plays with rhythm and time with an ease that is downright unfathomable. Perhaps most impressive is that while he as the drummer is the namesake of the band, he doesn’t once go into a steal-the-spotlight drum solo to showcase himself as the leader of the band. He is creative, animated, and yet controlled.
And he surrounds himself with a number of competent musicians as well, which usually helps make any band’s music sound better. Standing out among them are the aforementioned Ben Darwish, who plays keyboards on a handful of tracks and does a good job of complementing the tunes and knowing how to add to a song rather than lead one, and John Nastos, whose alto and tenor saxophone work is superb.
The jazz community outside of the Pacific Northwest might not be too familiar with the young Drew Shoals yet, but with a stellar debut (that isn’t really a debut considering his touring and recording track record) like this, he is likely to continue turning heads as he builds a name for himself. Fans of jazz, nu-jazz, funk and even hip-hop will appreciate the depth and diversity of this album.