Some musicians play an instrument. Bobby Previte is an instrument.
Not that he can’t play — he started out on the drums all those years ago in Niagara, NY and then in Buffalo. But calling Bobby Previte a mere drummer is like calling Louis Armstrong just a horn player, like calling Bitches Brew a song. It may technically be true, but it’s not telling the whole story.
Blueprints is the whole story, Previte’s whole story, spanning a 50-year career of writing, rehearsing, teaching, playing, conducting, told in snippets of sheet music projected on a big screen, with a small collection of musicians gathered solely for the purpose and the magic that happens when he spins them all together using his entire body as a wand.
For his two-night residency at Revolution Mill this weekend, Previte tapped his friend and collaborator Charlie Hunter to assemble a crew of North Carolina musicians that included Hunter’s frequent Flat Iron partner George Sluppick and this guy he met at the Apple Store who makes what sounds like digitized, robotic whalesong.
Here’s how it works: Previte flashes a small slice of sheet music from his catalog — a favorite line or two, a particularly effective groove, an ethereal chord from one of his hundreds of published pieces — up on the screen. Then he leaves the safety of the podium and walks among the musicians, activating them, inspiring them, playing them in the same way a conductor uses the orchestra as an instrument. Except more so.
Elvis Costello said that writing about music is like “dancing about architecture,” and in this way it is impossible to describe how Previte can orchestrate a spontaneous drum battle using just his eyes and his hands, the way he can pull an extended solo from a violinist just by smiling, how he can weave a groove from an unspooled cacophony of sound.
Why bother even trying, when you can just listen to the music instead.
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