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Wally Schnalle
Key Rhyme Pie: Wally Schnalle sets the groove on his new album, 'Why Do They Call You That?'

A fresh approach fuels local drummer Wally Schnalle's new CD

By Nicky Baxter

SAN JOSE drummer Wally Schnalle's sophomore CD, Why Do They Call You That? (Retlaw), abounds in sizzling rhythms--rhythms from South America, from Cuba, from Africa. Unlike the 40-year-old drummer's fusionesque first CD, Wally Schnalle [It Rhymes], this one is undiluted by commercial considerations. What could be more "jazz" than two horns, bass, piano and drums blowing off steamy boppish riffs?

"This album," Schnalle says, "is in part a reaction to the way we did the previous album. We just went in, and it was two days of nonstop playing." The freshness of that approach is evident on most of the album's nine compositions. "181 North 1st" sets the pace with staccato calling cards from tenor saxophonist Dann Zinn and trumpeter John Worley, followed by Murray Low's nimble-fingered piano flourishes.

Bassist Tom Bockhold maintains the beat, allowing Schnalle to soar off in a multitude of directions. But just as it appears that the song is pure bop, the quintet heads off to Latin America. On the tune's coda, the players up the ante considerably. After a couple of choruses of unison blowing, the sax and trumpet split to make their own concluding statements. Behind and around them, Schnalle goads the groove into overdrive.

Named after a five-cornered intersection near his home, "Monument" is another Schnalle composition swathed in vivid South American raiments. Though derived from the African/Cuban clave rhythm, the drummer puts a different spin on the beat, revving it up from a 4/4 pattern to 10/4.

"Monument" is one of several cuts displaying Schnalle's expanding musical palette. The ebb and flow of energy, the way in which Schnalle's clicking stickwork plays off Low's stabbing keyboard work and the Tijuana blue horns all contribute equally to the track's zesty insouciance.

SCHNALLE, a graduate of San Jose State University's jazz performance program who has worked with a remarkably variegated assortment of musical ensembles, from hip-hoppers 10 Bass T to post-Coltrane saxophonist Francis Wong, requires little prodding when asked to list his favorite tracks: "I really enjoyed recording 'Pink Catawba' and 'It Should Have Been.' The energy level on those tunes was just incredible."

True enough, both songs merit special attention. The former coasts along on a mobile bass pattern, cool-style horn play and some swinging drums, while the latter is moodier, again boasting exemplary bass work by Bockhold.

In terms of sheer kineticism, however, "Kwaku" struts away with the prize. The song finds the quintet investigating jazz's heartbeats. Wisely, Schnalle eschews the jungular "ooga-booga boo-boo" stereotype, ferreting out instead the nuanced and multifaceted rhythms and implied melodies that characterize authentic West African music. Murray Low's piano approximates the sound of a Nigerian chant with extraordinary precision, while Bockhold's bass playing is positively buoyant, skipping along like a schoolboy on his way to the playground.

"A master drummer named Kwaku Dadey was showing me a rhythm pattern," says Schnalle, who admits to being baffled by the black beat. "The first time he played it for me, I didn't get it; I thought it was just repetitious. Later, though, it all fell in place. What he was playing wasn't just music, it was an actual language. That particular piece was either about a wrestling match or the village being in good spirits, I think."

Ironically, while the relatively accessible first album would appear likelier to garner radio exposure, the more adventurous Why has outpaced its predecessor, gaining admittance to the vaunted Gavin jazz charts. According to Schnalle, "some radio programmers I've spoken to have said this album isn't radio-friendly, but I'm pleased that [the current project] is doing so well."

The amiable skinsman is itching to test-drive the new tunes before folks who like their bop hot. "All of the rehearsing, recording and promotion are in support of those rare moments when you have great musicians playing great compositions to an appreciative audience--it's all in pursuit of that."

Wally Schnalle performs Friday (Oct. 10) at 9pm at Gordon Biersch, 33 E. San Fernando St., San Jose. No cover. (408/294-6785)

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From the Oct. 9-15, 1997 issue of Metro.

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