If you're tired of trumpets, sick of sax, or veering from vocals, you can catch a concert on Thursday that will be free of everything except drums – and a double dose at that. Drummers Mike Essoudry and Michel Delage are playing drums together in the Mirror Duo at Mugshots. And they're excited about the possibilities of the evening.

Mike Essoudry ©Brett Delmage, 2010

Michel Delage ©Brett Delmage, 2015

“It's going to be really interesting. I think it's going to be a really, really different kind of show,” Essoudry says. “Duo drums. It will be neat. It doesn't happen very often.”

Which is true, even for them. Both drummers are very active in the Ottawa jazz scene, with significant projects – and normally performing in larger groups, up to and including big bands. Essoudry played drums in Rob Frayne's 18-piece Dream Band this past weekend, and in March he presented original music with his septet at the NAC Fourth Stage. Delage is a member of the Beeched Wailers sextet, who host the popular Tuesday night jams at the Rochester Street Pub. He is also currently hosting a tribute series at the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge, with guest musicians from out of Ottawa.

But on Thursday all they'll have is each other, their drum kits, and their improvisational skills to make music for the entire evening.

“Usually when two drummers get together they just want to go like aaaaaaaa and play everything they can because they're two drummers,” Delage said, laughing.

So for those listeners who feel that one drum solo is one too many, will a two-drummer-only performance be even worse?

“I don't want people's ears to get tired,” Delage says. “Because when you're listening to two drummers play, there's a real danger where the audience will get really tired of hearing drums. So we want to try to avoid that.”

“We've had rehearsals and they went well. We both came with a bunch of ideas. Mike has a lot of African-inspired ideas and I came with some gamelan-inspired ideas. He had a really good idea where one drummer would keep the groove no matter what kind of groove it is, and the other drummer would take more of a melodic approach to things.”

The communication is very direct. You're listening to one conversation. As soon as you have more than two people, it ends up being a very different thing.   – Mike Essoudry

Essoudry has been thinking a lot about how to make drum duo work well.

As he explained to me, “It's a bit of a challenge for the listeners too, to get out of the idea of expecting to hear a melody. Or expecting to hear melody in the traditional sense of the word with notes, or hearing chords. So just think about the sound of the drums and what they can possibly do.”

“You've heard the idea of lead and rhythm guitar, right? You can have the same with drums. I've put up a Soundcloud recording of just that. I'm playing a beat, not a very heavy beat – a pulse with an interesting enough pulse, a different kind of background, and Michel is playing freely on top of that.

“The trick about this stuff is making sure the kits are very different, that they're sonically very different.

There will definitely be some rhythm things we'll do together. Those things can be quite dense as long as the voices are quite clearly distinguishable.”

Essoudry spoke at length about how a duo further enabled a drummer's, or any musician's musical voice, through a conversational approach.

“The communication is very direct. You're listening to one conversation. As soon as you have more than two people, it ends up being a very different thing. It ends up being somebody sitting back, right? The roles of music really start to get assigned as soon as there are more than two [players]. Three is pretty good still. Four, automatically you now have a rhythm section, responsible for keeping the time. The role all of a sudden becomes very apparent. It's not as direct.

“That's a really good way to communicate, person-to-person and just like in real life it's exactly like language and speaking and dialogue that way. It's easier to get on the same page with one other person than two.

He gives an non-musical analogy: “The conversation with two people can move very, very quickly. We're talking about couches, and then we're talking about computers, and then we're talking Middle East, and then we're talking about blue jeans. It can all happen really, really fast with two people. The more people you have, the slower that becomes.

“Even when you're speaking with another person, there's one person talking and another person listening. It always works that way. You get to change direction and you get to respond very quickly. Being in that moment at that speed is nice, being able to improvise that quickly. Or when you have an idea, that you can just go do it.

“Sometimes the time, believe it or not, for the drums in this context isn't as important. You can be much freer in some ways than you can in other ways.”

Freed musically - but not from jail

Adam Saikaley Quartet in Mugshots - © 2014 Brett Delmage
Adam Saikaley Quartet in Mugshots - © 2014 Brett Delmage
What Delage and Essoudry won't be free from on Thursday evening is jail. They'll be playing in Mugshots, the Nicholas Street Hostel historic jail and bar without bars – but the walls, ceiling, floor and columns are very thick, and very sound-reflective, painted bricks and concrete. It's the antithesis of a recording studio treated for sound absorption.

Percussionist Jesse Stewart referred to The National Gallery's C219 as his “improvising partner” when he performed in front of the Voice of Fire. Mugshots will be their partner. I wondered if that was a concern for this drum duo.

“It's an interesting venue. It's loud. Bounces around like crazeee,” Delage said.

Essoudry has played in Mugshots regularly since late 2013. “It's a very surprising space. You can hear everything fairly clearly. Somehow things don't get lost in that room. I don't know what it is. Those vaulted ceilings really move things around. You can hear people talk at the end of the space because it just bounces around in that vault.

“But I'll be honest. I haven't heard a lot of bands in that room that I haven't been in. I don't have a really good audience perspective, actually. I think I've only heard one other band, but it did sound very good. You'd think it would be a disaster somehow, but it really isn't. I don't mind playing there at all. I enjoy playing there quite a bit actually. It's great.”

The drum-based Mirror Duo will be the fourth (and final for now) show in Essoudry's duo series at Mugshots in April. Essoudry was happy with his experience so far.

“Duos are nice. They're really nice, interactive things. There's good things about all of these duos because they're all very different exploration of different ideas and improvising music. It's cool.”

    – Brett Delmage

Mirror Duo plays Mugshots (in the Nicholas Street Jail Hostel, 75 Nicholas Street (between Rideau Street and the Mackenzie-King Bridge) starting at 9 p.m. Admission: $5.

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