For years, the soulful London-based drummer, Richard Spaven, has played alongside greats like José James, Guru, Flying Lotus, Gregory Porter, and Bill Laurance. Now he's releasing Real Time, his second album as a leader.
Richard Spaven has a multifaceted musical identity. Immersed in the neo-soul of Jose James, whom he accompanied for several years, the London drummer began his solo career in 2010 under the aegis of the Jazz Re:freshed collective. It was a clear return to his roots at the time, because Richard cut his teeth on jazz. As a big band drummer’s student, he made his debut in the youth orchestra of his school: “I was good at it and it was a good discipline. But soon I started going to rehearsals while listening to Eric B and Rakim on my headphones, so my taste was developing and transitioning towards hip hop.” It was the end of the 90s, and soon London experienced an explosion of underground electronic music. Dubstep, broken beat and drum’n’bass invaded clubs in the capital, an innovation that did not leave Richard indifferent. This multiplicity of influences can be seen on his new album, Real Time. Deeply rooted in electro-gliding sounds, there is a preponderance of groove mixed with free, improvised playing.
Real Time is the second album that the drummer has made with the same sidekicks. Stuart McCallum, guitarist of the Cinematic Orchestra and long-time collaborator, officiates, along with Jordan Rakei. The neo-soul singer had approached Richard for a mythical track in 2016, “Toko.” Since then, Richard would never have considered his music without the young Australian’s contribution. “Jordan is so into what we do. Obviously he can’t be my live singer all the time because he has his own career, but studio-wise he really completes what I do.” But unlike on the previous album, The Self (2017), the group’s spontaneity took precedence over Spaven’s composition aspect. “I have had my own band for a longer time now. This record has more inputs from them in terms of playing and is less controlled by me. I was trying to capture the vibe more than the perfect take.”
A bridge between electronics and acoustics
This obsession with the musical experience is reflected in the balance between electronics and acoustics. Take Jameszoo, who produced the song “Celestial Blues,” a tribute to Andy Bey’s spiritual jazz. A self-proclaimed “computer naive jazz” musician, the Dutch artist fascinates Richard: “He makes acoustic sound like electronic, but he does it in a very musical way.” This dialogue among genres is at the heart of Richard’s music. “Show Me What You Got” is a live version of a production by Jay Dilla, who had himself sampled the music of the group Stereolab. Nothing is lost, everything is transformed. Drummer Jojo Mayer, also a fan of electronic music, talks about “reverse engineering” to describe this transformation process. However, Richard reminds us that he is more influenced by music than he is by drums. On the other hand, he is partial to conceptualization.
Richard has therefore developed his own concept: residual learning. Behind this convoluted term, the truth of the drummer’s playing is revealed: “Residual learning is like treating yourself to new concepts in a practice routine. When you take a new concept on board it stretches you mentally, and when you then play in a gig, your playing will feel the benefit of what you’ve done in your practice, it allows you to be freer.” We want to believe it, because Richard’s playing exudes measure and serenity. Sitting at his drum set, he operates with his drumsticks like a painter in front of his easel, by successive strokes, without frantic outbursts. However, Richard does not claim this simplicity: “I try to self-produce as I play, it’s important to me that the sound I make is balanced, with nice touch and dynamics. There is definitely a thought process whilst I’m playing, I’m looking to offer a nice sound.”
“It’s really about having the groove”
Thankfully, the drummer is committed to making listening simple. His music can be complex, but it will never be demonstrative. “Spin,” the album’s first track, offers a beautiful perspective between the soaring music and fast drumming with a double tempo: the hi-hat’s invectives in no way contradict the general groove of the song. The same goes for “Faded,” whose 7-count measures do not disturb the ambient tranquility of the chords. Richard places the groove in a central position but wants to remain free in his movements. “Musically I would never write down what I need to play, it’s really about having the groove in the place where you feel you can deliver, it needs to sit in the right pocket, and it’s all about having ideas where you can expand on that groove, or leave space. So basically there’s a mental picture, which I find more inspiring as opposed to specific directions on what exactly to play.” Years of working alongside the great names (Guru, Flying Lotus, Gregory Porter, and Bill Laurance) taught him restraint and self-sacrifice.