My ID Project featuring James Blood Ulmer at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West), tonight (Thursday September 30). $30. 416-588-0307 Rating: NNNNN
Jamaican-born percussionist Aubrey Dayle spent his teenage years in Montreal basking in the inspirational rays of Rush drummer Neil Peart.
It was up to his sister Charmaine to broaden the greenhorn's perspective on which percussionists truly deserved his attention.
"She bought me a Max Roach/Anthony Braxton record," the virtuoso chuckles over the phone from his Oshawa crib. "I put that on and was like, 'What is that?"
"I'd put it away for six or seven months when she got me a Ralph MacDonald record. That was more accessible, and I was like, 'Wow, that's percussion?" It was really Charmaine who got me listening and put me on this non-commercial path."
Charmaine died of cancer just 10 days after Dayle experienced 9/11 in New York, forcing him to bare his emotions by releasing his stored musical energy in the studio. He'd been a stellar freelance session player with Peter Gabriel and others before then.
His solo My ID Project album is a global tour de funk concocted with famed guitarists Vernon Reid and Ron Jackson, Gnawan vocal powerhouse and long-time Dayle collaborator Hassan Hakmoun and the legendary James Blood Ulmer, who'll join him and Jackson onstage this week.
"There's definitely a world music feel to My ID," says Dayle. "The first track has a West African zouk quality with a bala rhythm (short for balafon, a West African percussion instrument). I touch on reggae and even bring in a classical string quartet at one point. I really reached into everything that inspires me."
After Charmaine helped open his ears as a teen, Dayle absorbed classical drumming at the McGill Conservatory of Music, getting better acquainted with his new pals timpani, xylophone, hand drum, snare drum, mallets, marimba and vibraphone. But classical was never really his bag.
"I could play the parts and learn the repertoire and do everything," he says, "but you could tell my heart wasn"t in that world. It was like, 'Yeah, he sure has great chops, he sure can do it, but he's not really feelin' this, is he?'"
Dayle came into his own after moving to New York City's Staten Island at his wife's prompting, to study at the Manhattan School of Music. He toured across the States and Europe as a back-up musician , eventually landing a session at enigmatic "harmolodic" jazz guitar virtuoso Ulmer's New York loft.
"We went to Blood's loft and played through the music we'd been given," Dayle reminisces. "All Blood said, in his kind of sheepish way, was, 'W-w-will you play with me?" I"ve kind of been playing with him for 12 years."
But not exclusively. In fact, remaining a free agent was one of the best things Ulmer taught Dayle. The other was the importance of getting his own project out.
"He said, 'Do not think that you can just sit here and play with people and let that be the end of the story." He's always encouraged me to get my project out, even before I was ready."
The new disc addresses perceptions about being black in Canada and the issue of HIV/AIDS. Dayle's sister Janice is a healthy, headstrong long-time survivor.
"Janice does a spoken-word thing over a drum solo on the record addressing the need for HIV-positive and AIDS-afflicted people to really stand up and not be pitied or seen as these dying-off creatures. They're not," he asserts. "They are if they think they are, but they're not in truth."
It seems that, through all the pain, Dayle feels relieved to let it out raw.
"You come out of that schooled mentality where everything has to be played just so or it's bullshit," he laughs. "No. It doesn"t work like that. Thank god."