The days of barnstorming drummers are fading. Partly, this is because barnstorming days, in general, are also drifting out of favour amid the modern daily grind. Quite often, as the mechanical squeeze of current societal oppression clamps down, we desire to slink aside into free time with something smooth. And for this, there is no finer beat to march to than the silken tones of Corey Fonville.
This year, the sticksmith has not only delivered a luscious blend on the stirring album Solar Music with his own band Butcher Brown but also racked up credits with B Cool-Aid and Kurt Elling & Charlie Hunter’s SuperBlue project, to name but a few. Each time out, he achieves the golden staple of drumming: to play strictly to the beat of the song while also vocalising your own unmistakable groove that embellishes the track.
As session drummer Jake Hopkins told Far Out, “He’s got, for me, the perfect balance of traditional jazz playing and modern fusion styles, which makes him so versatile”. Topping off his praise by citing: “He’s probably the best all-round drummer I’ve seen”.
While the likes of Yussef Dayes have offered up stunning work on Black Classical Music and Femi Koleoso has been a blitzkrieg live with the Ezra Collective and Gorillaz of late, the relaxed, humble and deeply textured style of Fonville has been the perfect pace for 2023.
He feels things in four, and that allows him to swing with a bounty of expression, with his natural pace taking care of the basics. Thus, he doesn’t just exhibit extraordinary technique on Solar Music. He also melts into the songs with a mercurial ability that allows him to fade, crack a smile with the rhythm section, and then burst back in for a flourish, all in a constant state of flow. He’s not always at the centre of the song, and that boldness to wander is much to his credit.
After all, it’s not the forefront he’s hoping for, but rather to orchestrate the track with an emotional backbone. As he told us himself, “My goal is to bring love and conviction to the music. It’s a spiritual thing. You have to be in touch with yourself first when you sit down at the instrument to have an impact on the listener. It’s all about being honest and genuine about the music because people feel that.” Indeed, this level of sincerity soars in Solar Music. There’s a wealth of energy that so many studio-bound records fail to muster these days.
Fonville looks to buck this with a fusion style that could outstrip a Michelin Star restaurant in the Downtown area; he pours a sense of ‘in-the-zone’ authenticity into his groove. “That’s what my heroes have all done,” he adds. “Especially guys like Brian Blade or Elvin Jones – whenever they played, you felt it instantly. The pulse in the tempos have so much intent behind it.” That’s what makes Fonville’s deviation around a theme of four time so captivating: the intent is ever-present, but it manifests in swells and fades.
There are evident flourishes of atypical R&B, modern beat-heavy breaks reminiscent of Karriem Riggins with his rap thinking hat on, and an effortless ability to fold into psychedelic wailing like Max Roach had he been tapping along to Thelonious Monk reimagining Revolver. However, this eclectic welter of influences is all seamlessly mixed into the same delicious broth like a chef in groove as opposed to popping up in a frenzy of arbitrary shuffles. This is evidenced by the fact the whole thing is neater than Dracula’s parting.
With this in mind, his blend of techniques, along with his idiosyncratic sound captures both a world of culture and his own personality that is also displayed top to bottom in Butcher Brown. What genre is it? Couldn’t truly tell you. What does it sound like? It’s more a matter of mood. And so on. But amid the mysterious murk – that, I suppose, when push comes to shove, comes close to Maggot Brain after the advent of hip hop and modern psychedelia – there is a world of personal corroborations. It’s a drum sound that essentially comes with its own lighting, builds its own bar behind it, and lives up to Fonville’s billing that: “We’re telling our life behind the kit, and that’s what it’s all about.”