Long before I could verbally communicate, music was the consummate lingua franca of my life. Whilst I endeavoured to learn as much as I could about any instrument I could wrap my ears round, percussion always had a special place in my heart and it was for that reason that I studied the drums at an early age. I was draw to percussion for reasons that run counterintuitive to the perceived musical orthodoxies. Whilst many connote percussion with the ideas of pulse, beat and tempo, these musical concepts were of secondary interest to me in my continuing fascination with the potential of percussion. For me, the apogee of percussive innovation is contributing and enhancing melody and harmony. Rhythm is an intrinsic function innate to any skilled musician. It is not so much a sonic force as an invisible hand. Melody and harmony as a means of contrast are sonic forces whether composed, spontaneous or a combination of the two. A percussionist who is able to use his instruments to move, shape, challenge and drive melody and harmony is a gifted percussionist. Those who can’t are mere technicians at the best of times.
This is why Mark Fletcher is my favourite contemporary drummer. His ensemble playing is filled with drama, it is never static. Like the great master drummers of African music, Fletcher’s styles have linear narrative. This sense of purpose makes him the ultimate ensemble player as he is able to inspire other plays to contribute and commit themselves to this narrative. Anyone can be told where various chords are on a piano or guitar. Likewise anyone could learn the basic rudiments of modern drumming, but to strive beyond this is what music ought to be about. As Fletcher himself often says ‘music is art and art is not a sport’.
Perhaps more than any other musicians, percussionists must be the most ‘multi-lingual’ in terms of having the ability to perform across wide ranging musical idioms. This is something Mark Fletcher does with a deceptive ease. The internationally renowned alto saxophonist Peter King said of Fletcher, ‘He can play in any style and he can play the fuck out of all of them’. It is this versatility combined with a sense of melody, drama and purpose that has won Fletcher praise from a variety of musicians. Shortly before his untimely death Joe Zawinul that he wanted to play with Fletcher. He has received praise from fellow drummers, Elvin Jones, Bernard Purdie, Gary Husband and Chris Dave. James Moody, Cedar Walton, Mark Murphy, John Etheridge and Michel Legrand invited Fletcher into their ensembles over the years and spoke highly of him throughout the decades.
Playing in ensembles as diverse as Soft Machine and Hatfield and The North on one hand and Ian Shaw’s laurelled vocal quartets on the other, Mark Fletcher continues to be one of the most sought out yet emotionally original figures in the London music scene. Above all though, Fletcher’s most special musical relationship was that which he formed with the late Ronnie Scott. Scott was an inspirational figure for Fletcher during his first days in London and it was because of this that Scott invited Fletcher to be the drummer in the final quintet Scott led before his tragic death in 1996.
In 2011, Fletcher decided to follow in the footsteps of Scott and form his own band, Fletch’s Brew which would go on to play regular gigs at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London’s Soho. Fletcher formed the band with an aim to surround himself with musicians who shared his philosophy that the stage is a place for passion and experimentation and above all for sonic intrigue.
In 2014, Fletch’s Brew released 39 & 47, their debut album. It is a concept album which spans many musical styles from free-jazz, to groovy fusion, jazz based hip-hop, jazz-rock and vocal jazz. Throughout this wide ranging musical palate is a story which tells the tales of life in London’s music world from the 1950s to the present day. I had the privilege of producing the album as well as writing the poem from which the album drives its name. It was an honour to have Peter King read my words on the record. He was after all the protagonist in many of the stories Mark Fletcher’s band tell on 39 & 47.
Fletch’s Brew continues to be at the epicentre of Mark Fletcher’s creative output. With an ever evolving line-up built around Fletcher’s desire to continually push the boundaries of musical possibility, the band continue to play at Ronnie’s, throughout Britain and soon seek to take their musical journey to Europe, America and Japan.
Adam Garrie, London 2014.