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The Robust Music of Hal Darling

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Springing from jazz roots (studying under Ralph Humphrey and studio virtuoso Joe Porcaro), Hal Darling has expanded his drum skills to encompass a full range of electronic composition. His pair of solo releases are remarkably dynamic and rewarding recordings that are highly recommended.

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Interview with Hal Darling

Q: Most musicians coming from jazz roots embrace electronics with a dedication to fusion. Your music takes a different tact. Care to elaborate on that?

DARLING: I've taken a different approach primarily because the other has already been done. A rich musical vein it was, but it has been mined out very effectively by the likes of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a daunting ensemble who to my mind, at least, pioneered and defined the fusion genre some thirty years ago. I am trying to create something new, something that does not wear its derivations on its sleeve. My music is unquestionably a fusion of styles, but I would like to think that I am moving towards the creation of something different, as yet unheard. Every artist's work is to some extent a product of its influences, but as I write, if I compose something that is to my own sensibilities obviously derivative of something else, it must be changed or cast aside. I have no interest in being a poor man's Jethro Tull or King Crimson or Frank Zappa, no matter how hugely influential those groups might have been and were, in my own musical development. Early fusion was sometimes referred to as "jazz-rock". A fair characterization I think, as some of the first experiments of the style were little more than jazz improvisations played through ever larger and louder amplifiers. I've described my music as "loud and fast complex jazz chaos", not because that is an accurate description, but because it is one to which the layman can relate. More to the point, my business card reads: "An intense, complex, progressive, instrumental fusion of rock, jazz, and classical elements that is both expressive and powerfully electric, with an emphasis on musicianship".

Sounds a bit serious. Don't worry, it's all just an act.

Q: While gear is always integral to a musician's accomplishments, what intangible forces do you feel fuel your creativity?

DARLING: Anything and everything that touches me as a human being will manifest itself in some aspect of the creative process. The deep and abiding love I feel for my wife is a source of never ending strength that drives my creative will. The encouragement and support of my immediate family is always there, and the very recent death of my father will certainly inform many elements of my music in the future. I am inspired by great work, musical and otherwise, from Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" to Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight." I always keep a copy of the Gettysburg Address nearby as I feel it is one the classic utterances of all time. I draw inspiration from the heart, work ethic, and sportsmanship of the late, great Walter Payton. The devotion to peace and social justice exhibited by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King have shaped my values and are consequently reflected in my work. I have a wealth of wonderful friends and associates who are lunatics. We support and encourage each other in dangerous and unhealthy ways, and without them, I would be lost!

Music is its own reward. I've dedicated my life to music and I consider playing well to be a sacred trust. I love a challenge, and I like to push myself to the very limits of my ability. All of this taken together does perhaps make it inevitable that my work will be very intense and complex. And when I'm lucky, rather original too, I hope. The greatest intangible of all is probably luck. I was very fortunate indeed to have discovered a creative and constructive activity that I truly loved at such a tender age. An affair that continues to this very day.

Q: If you could assemble a "band" of your choice, who would be included in the line-up? And what direction would the resulting music take?

DARLING: Bands are political and they present a series of challenges that do not necessarily apply to the solo musician. They also present opportunities for musical discovery and kinship. I could provide you with a list of musicians with whom I might enjoy playing, but at the end of the day, any successful band will be a collection of individuals who can live in each other's pockets and still get along...namely- friends. If the people involved don't get on well the group will fail. Personal relations are more important than musical compatibility. So, that being said, on keyboards I'd like a close friend or two who could play like Kerry Minnear, Art Tatum, Mike Garson and Jon Lord put together. On guitar I'd like a very good friend who played something like Jeff Beck and Danny Gatton and Steve Howe. On bass I'd like a person who's company I really enjoy and who plays with the spirited aggression of Jack Bruce, Chris Squire and Billy Sheehan. On brass/winds/reeds I'd want a friend with the spirit of Coltrane and the melodic sense of Ian McDonald. And of course on drums would be the tremendously charming, handsome, charismatic, intelligent, and apparently insecure individual who is answering your question as we speak.

As to what direction the resulting music would take, well, if it's my name as composer, then it would go in whatever direction I pointed. As I stated earlier, bands are political. When musicians play as a collective, it is important that the individuals subjugate their egos to the best of their ability. It is equally important that leadership be provided. Otherwise the group faces the dreadful stagnation of decision by committee. Members of my band would be encouraged in every way to contribute all they could. But in the end, the final decisions would have to be mine.

Q: What was the last scientific discovery that made you go "Wow!"?

DARLING: I must admit that I'm addicted to every new round of Hubble photographs that appear. The last thing that really threw me was when I read an article about nanotechnology, or more specifically about the construction of so-called carbon nanotubes. Carbon atoms in a strong electric field can arrange themselves into sheets which can then be made into tubes. Research is being done to find a way to stabilize the carbon atoms in such a way that these tubes can be made several feet long. If they are successful, they will have created the strongest materials known to man. This will have a tremendous impact on lightweight composite materials, which will in turn impact energy efficiency and safety concerns in virtually every aspect of our daily lives.

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HAL DARLING: Darling (CD on Drum Productions)

This CD from 1996 features 43 minutes of jovial rock steeped in strong progressive roots.

On this release, Hal plays drum kit, devices, sequencing, and sundry devices. He is joined by Bryce Darling on ancillary percussion and keyboards. There are no vocals.

Expect far more than just percussive tracks from this music. One minute frenzied keyboards chase the rhythms with fanciful devotion, the next somber drones are corralling the melody with their shadowy tendrils. Singsong wisps (are those simulated accordions?) cavort through the mix, peppering the tuneage with their exhilarated enunciation. A hiss of searing sound pierces the music, like some jet-propelled slide down the neck of a phantom guitar. Faux horns raise their call to reverberate the cathedral's ceiling. Hints of tubular bells echo across a surprise marsh to furnish noble punctuation to the frolicsome melody. There's even a taste of classic jazz organ lending a retro flair to some passages of this highly modern music, and these instances are tastefully capped with reedy keyboards that ground the experience for touchdown.

A lot can be done with technical trickery to replicate other instruments, fleshing out a sonic repertoire, but without compositional skill the results fail to evoke any emotional response in the audience. Darling wields a musical acumen that delivers engaging riffs and masterful harmonies amid the plethora of complex and frantic rhythms. His tunes stir the soul as they stimulate the feet, driving listeners into an cerebral dance fever.

Darling's musical vision encompasses earth and sky with a superior dash of imperial frenzy spicing the very human songs and producing a unity that is reminiscent of King Crimson gene-spliced with Mahavishnu Orchestra.

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HAL DARLING: D2R (CD on Drum Productions)

This CD from 2003 offers 49 minutes of even more refined funtime rock.

Here, Darling plays all manner of percussives and keyboards. He is joined by Uri Gatton on electric, acoustic and MIDI guitars, and Athan Gailis on woodwinds, brass and MIDI horns. Vocals are still not in attendance.

The inclusion of actual guitars and horns elevates Darling's music to a lusher plateau where tradition clashes with innovative sensibilities--and the audience is the victor.

Hordes of drum rolls cascade with passionate determination, blending with intricate rhythmic structures crafted to dazzle and exhaust the audience. Nimble-fingered keyboards belt out personable accompaniment in a variety of modes, from harpsichords to fusion organs to symphonic synthis. Sounds are bent and sculpted into deviant sonic expressions. attributing novel perspectives to the forceful tuneage. Synthetic strings adjoin an stately orchestral flair to a few pieces. The addition of searing guitars and blaring horns is often lost in Darling's fundamental flurry, but their presence succeeds in a subliminal manner, expanding the harmonic disposition with subtle embellishment.

Progrock tendencies are infused with a demonstrative attitude normally found in epic soundtrack scores, resulting in a majestic deportment that reaches mythic proportions with its heaven-scraping mien. This grandeur conveys a striking humility as the melodies settle overhead like watchful sonic guardians. The music's dramatic demeanor delivers powerful riffs flavored with jocular tonalities.

A sense of humor permeates these tunes, exhibited with the carnival dervish of "Clown on Fire" or the easily distracted attention-span captured in "Dog Dreams".

Despite the music's overwhelming exhaustive nature, these tunes linger in the listener's head like appealing residue from a cherished encounter in the dark.

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