Mixtape: Vibraphone Primer by Drew Gardner

Continuing in a run of guest mix tapes, this latest is set up as a primer to often overlooked territory. Like Jeffrey Alexander’s recent mix exploring the boundaries of the Raccoon Records catalog, this one comes from a place of personal passion. Drew Gardner should be a name familiar to most around here. As one half of Elkhorn, he’s been integral to the sound of the site for quite some time. The band’s name might be synonymous with an intertwined tangle of acoustic and electric guitars, but for this mix Gardner explores his love of the vibraphone. The instrument plays a large part in their latest record, jettisoning the electric guitar entirely for an album of acoustic and vibraphone interplay.

As to what brought the vibraphone into the fold at this time in their evolution, Drew gives some context. “On The Whole Universe In All Directions evolved out of a session of meditation music Elkhorn did for Psychedelic Sangha,” he reveals. “We used that as a launching pad for this recording. We’ve always wanted to do a vibes record and this seemed like a good moment to do it. I’ve been playing vibes on and off since the late 1990s. I was always a multi-instrumentalist, rhythm section guy and played drums, piano, and guitar, so vibes were a natural extension of that. Vibes and guitar and piano are all mixed together in my mind,” admits Drew. “Before Elkhorn I was an improv jazz player. In the 90s in San Francisco I played glockenspiel with the Marco Eneidi Creative Music Orchestra. I used to have a vibes group with Sabir Mateen. More recently I’ve been playing some vibes in the Heavy Lidders.”

“I love the glassy sound of the vibraphone. It’s not about hitting the bars–you have to draw the sound out of the instrument with the mallets. Here I approach the vibes like I do the guitar: melodically. The sound of the vibes and the 12-string guitar have a special kind of blend. The vibraphone spreads over the tracks a little differently than guitar so there’s a different breadth to the songs.” Noting some particular influences on the album, Drew notes that “the vibes players with a warm, meditative/melodic sound always had an impact on me—Walt Dickerson and Khan Jamal especially.”

Drew sought to give some context to the album with a mixtape of these influences, a vibraphone primer that encompasses the instrument’s appearance in earlier jazz ensembles on through more modern contexts — from ‘70s embellishments to the post-rock sounds of Chicago. Both schools are at play among the pieces from On The Whole Universe In All Directions — a work that’s meditative, mercurial, and deeply psychedelic, feeling like a crystalline bridge through the eras. Drew maps the progression of the instrument, weaving its evolution into Elkhorn’s own journey into headier waters. You can hear a track from the band’s upcoming record HERE.


1 Divine Gemini – Walt Dickerson/Richard Davis
2 The Fuzz – Roy Ayers
3 Oblique – Bobby Hutcherson
4 Mulatu – Mulatu Astatke
5 Chega De Saudade (No More Blues) – Gary Burton
6 Out There Alone – Karl Berger
7 Brrr – Naughton Trio
8 Nubian Queen – Khan Jamal
9 Magic Square – Patricia Brennan
10 The Nurturer – Joel Ross
11 Dream Letter – Tim Buckley, David Friedman on vibraphone
12 Crying Song- Richard Wright on vibraphone
13 Drifting – Jimi Hendrix, Buzzy Linhart on vibraphone
14 Ballerina – Van Morrison, Warren Smith on vibraphone
15 ‘Til I Die – The Beach Boys, Daryl Dragon on vibraphone
16 Razor Boy – Steely Dan, Victor Feldman on vibraphone
17 Will to Love – Neil Young
18 The Taut And Tame – Tortoise, John McEntire on vibraphone

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top