Brian Adler is truly both a drummer and a percussionist—in his world, the drum set coexists peacefully with a dizzying array of ethnic percussion instruments as equal partners in a myriad of musical possibilities. His work with vocalist Sunny Kim in the Prana Trio—which also includes a rotating cast of guest artists such as Frank Carlberg, Stomu Takeshi, Carmen Staaf, and Jeremy Udden—is a case in point. His nimble, sensitive approach to the drum set is matched only by his similarly accomplished work on cajon, tablas, and a host of other ethnic percussion instruments. Never getting lost in his own chops, always totally plugged in to his surroundings in the moment, Adler is the sort of player who always makes the musicians he's playing with sound better. As a composer, he exhibits many of the same characteristics—his writing is consistently intriguing but not overly elaborate. His music is not simple, but there's an economy and a sparseness to it that invites listeners in.
Brian's latest project is something of an anomaly in the jazz world. The Helium Music Project (Circavision Productions, 2011) is an ongoing, download-only compendium of music created with different musicians in different locations all over the globe. So far, just three tracks have been released, with two more to come in October, 2011. As with all of Brian's other projects, the music is soulful, incredibly diverse, and played with passion and virtuosity.
All About Jazz: Tell us how you got interested in music, and how you decided to make it your profession.
Brian Adler: I became interested in music at a young age through kirtans, and began taking drum lessons on an Indian drum called a mridung. As far as making it a profession, I am not sure if I had a moment when I decided; it has always been a big part of my life. And I have a very supportive mother who taught me to reach for the stars. When I was a sophomore in high school, my drum teacher asked me if I wanted to pursue music as a career, and I remember being surprised by the question. I guess I thought it was so obvious that I did.
AAJ: Your early involvement in non-Western music is not a typical pathway to the drum kit—though it provides insight into your uncanny mastery of all sorts of hand percussion. So tell us about kirtans, the mridung, and how you came in contact with them as a youngster?
BA: Kirtans are Indian devotional chants or mantras that are sung in a call-and-response fashion. They can be performed with several chanters or sometimes with several thousands of people chanting, and there is typically one or two drummers, a harmonium player, and a cymbal player accompanying them.
I grew up in and around a meditation retreat center where chants like these were performed regularly. It was not uncommon for the kids there to learn how to play the mridung or one of the other instruments.