Dr. Um (Fuzzy Music)

Peter Erskine

Released January 15, 2016

Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album 2017




In recent years, Erskine feels, he’s strayed from his true love, fusion and R&B drumming. Dr. Um, which Erskine self-produced, marks his return to “the kind of drumming I was best-known for in my youth and during my years with Weather Report and Steps Ahead.” He elaborates: “I’d traveled my ‘anti-drumming’ path of recent years about as far as I could take it—exquisite music where ‘less’ was so much ‘more’—the minimalism of my ECM and Fuzzy Music trio recording years had become my calling card. So the chance to play this way again feels very fresh and new to me. It’s being able to live the ‘if I knew then what I know now’ dream and make some really cool music at the same time.”

Indeed, Dr. Um—the title a very cool play on words—feels like a return, yet at the same time there’s nothing retro about it. Recorded and mixed by Talley Sherwood at Tritone Recording Glendale, California, the collection—10 songs and two spoken-word pieces—takes the classic fusion sound into the 21st century. The original concept for the album, however, stretches further back. “Jack Fletcher is my oldest and closest friend,” says Erskine. Fletcher, a theater director who does voice directing for animation and film, wrote the liner notes for Dr. Um. “Jack envisioned an evening of music and lights and sets with a musical host, an alter ego who might allow me to discover my true musical and theatrical roots. I had no aim to take such a production on the road as it seemed so ambitious, and besides, I was learning how to play less and less, so did I really want to put a spotlight on all of that? ‘Dr. Um’ began to stand for the ephemeral ‘me’ that was out of reach. Would I ever step into that outfit? 2015 became the year in which to do it. I knew that I finally wanted to give voice to Dr. Um.”

Track Listing:

1. You’re Next (Hamilton Sterling) 0:28

2. Lost Page (John Beasley) 4:47

3. Hawaii Bathing Suit (Peter Erskine) 5:46

4. Bourges Buenos Aires (Joe Zawinul) 6:33

5. Little Fun K (Peter Erskine) 5:11

6. Mahler Ich bin der Welt Abhanden Gekommen (Gustav Mahler) 6:32

7. Sage Hands (Gary McFarland) 3:41

8. Okraphilia (John Beasley) 5:52

9. Speechless (Joe Zawinul) 6:11

10. Sprite (Vince Mendoza) 4:24

11. Northern Cross (Peter Erskine) 9:35

12. You Awake (Jake Fletcher) 0:17


Peter Erskine: drums

John Beasley: keyboards

Janek Gwizdala: electric bass

Bob Sheppard: tenor saxophone

Jeff Parker: guitar

Larry Koonse: guitar (10)

Aaron Serfaty: congas, bongos, cowbell (2)

Jack Fletcher: spoken word vocals

Producer: Peter Erskine

Co-producer: John Beasley

Recorded and mixed by Talley Sherwood

Mastering by Peter Doell

Artwork by Mark & Connie Beecher


Dr. Um offers journeyman drummer Peter Erskine an excuse to play funk and fusion and “all that [stuff] you’re so good at and people love while still being Mr. well-respected legit jazzman,” as related in the liner notes. That aptly summarizes the scope of this project, on which Erskine collaborates with keyboardist John Beasley (the two co-produced the album) and British electric bass virtuoso Janek Gwizdala. The three, joined by narrator Jack Fletcher, tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, guitarists Jeff Parker and Larry Koonse, and percussionist Aaron Serfaty, play electric jazz that’s musically fertile but not flashy, and handily demonstrates their gifts as groove-makers and improvisers.
Erskine and co. indeed sound relaxed and inspired, and not bound by allegiances to genre or album concept. Erskine contributes three of the 10 tunes, starting with “Hawaii Bathing Suit.” The tune, cut from the same cloth as his old band, Weather Report, has a spritely sax-keyboard unison head atop a simmering calypso-ish groove, and breaks into an open section for tenor, drums and congas, followed by Beasley’s twisty keys solo and a brash tenor outing on the outro. Erskine’s “Little Fun K” is, yeah, a little funky, its stair-stepping main theme, mellow keys and Parker’s liquid bluesy lines hinting at Steely Dan. And the leader’s sprawling “Northern Cross” benefits from some of the same elements, as well as the tones and textures once heard in Weather Report, and a brief passage of Erskine’s still-inventive rhythmic derring-do.
Erskine toasts Joe Zawinul, Weather Report’s cofounder, on the latter’s atmospheric, noir-ish “Bourges Buenos Aires” and “Speechless.” Beasley contributes the perky grooves and zigzagging fusion phrases of “Lost Page,” the laidback, soul-tinted “Okraphilia” and, unexpectedly, a stately Mahler arrangement. Koonse shines on Vince Mendoza’s “Sprite,” a lush ballad in the Metheny mold, and Beasley showcases his organ chops on Gary McFarland’s quirky “Sage Hands,” also featuring Sheppard. Tasty stuff.

Philip Booth (JazzTimes)