Members Doug Walter, Larry Lawless, and producer Dan Armstrong met as students in the percussion department of the University of North Texas (then, North Texas State University) where Doug was in the famed One O'Clock Lab Band, Larry was in the top Concert Band, and Dan was in the Orchestra. Over the years, although spread by many miles, they have all been deeply involved in music education. Doug now teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Larry at Stephenville, Texas, High School (formerly at Tarleton State University) and Dan at Penn State University. Rich MacDonald was recommended by mutual friend Dan Lidster of Encore Mallets, and happens to be a UNT grad also, playing in the Two O'Clock there. He now teaches at Winona State University in Minnesota. Bart Elliott, also a Texas percussion graduate (West Texas A&M University) now is a studio drummer/percussionist in Nashville. He and Larry met as a result of his online community, the DrummerCafe. David Bugher, the young gun of the group, was a student of Doug's at Colorado, now teaches in Indiana.
Larry pulled this group together as a dream project, the concept of a jazz album written for and performed entirely on instruments of the percussion family. The main melodic and harmonic instruments are the classic jazz instrument, the vibraphone, as well as one more usually seen in the concert hall, the marimba. The bass line was provided either by the low end of the 5 octave marimba, or with an electronic midi controller that is played like a mallet instrument, called a MalletKat. Add the standard drum set and a variety of percussion instruments such as conga, shakers, log drums, crotales, and you get the rich variety of textures this combination provides.
Each member of the group, besides being top performers on their instruments, are also composers. Thus, each provided 2 original jazz compositions written just for this project. The parts were emailed, and the group was assembled by telephone, email, and snail mail communication. When the time came, we met on the campus of the University of Colorado for a week long recording session. Although there were individual connections (such as Doug and Rich having played a show of the Ice Capades together), no one, not even founder Larry, knew all 5 members before the recording. With amazing professionalism, they bonded quickly into a cohesive ensemble, and at the end of the week, a 10 song CD was in the can.
REVIEW FROM JAZZREVIEW.COM:
"Jazz Behind Bars. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that title when I first saw it. After reading the bio sheet, however, I see that it was apparently some sort of play on words, as the group is a recording project, Lawless Percussion and Jazz Ensemble, conceived by leader Larry Lawless. Several group members are music educators, as well as graduates of the North Texas School of Music, while one is the founder of the DrummerCafe forum and a studio drummer/percussionist in Nashville. So much for the obvious assumption most likely drawn by many from the album title! The cover’s Old West backdrop might serve as a hint that it’s tongue-in-cheek, also.
This most interesting percussion-based, straight-ahead, rich and clear project boldly chooses to walk you through the entire album devoid of the traditional array of horns, keys, guitar, and vocals, and beckons you along with just the magic of the distinctly colorful vibes and other assorted goodies (marimbas, drums, wood blocks, MalletKat Bass, etc.) to rhythmically stomp through, sometimes dancing past in a very slight island shimmy of sorts. A vibrant, potent, and entertaining undertaking overall, I have my favorites here, like Lawless’s “The Doctor and The Deacon,” a piece heavy on the pronouncement of drums and vibes.
Lawless and Co. do a great job of steering the spotlight on such an integral part of the arsenal of instruments in music and, on this project, they make a very clear statement on the major contributions made by percussions and their overall impact on jazz.
Reviewed by: Ronald Jackson
REVIEW FROM PERCUSSIVE NOTES MAGAZINE:
Issue Vol. 45, No. 4, August 2007
Published by the Percussive Arts Society
"Included in the unique percussion/jazz combo Lawless Percussion and Jazz are Larry Lawless (marimba, xylophone and vibraphone), Doug Walter (marimba and vibes), Rich MacDonald (MalletKAT bass and drumset), Bart Elliott (MalletKAT bass, bass marimba and drumset), and David Bugher (vibes and MalletKAT bass). All of the selections are original compositions by the members and include "Happy Thoughts" and "Insomnia" by Bugher, "Sharptooth" and "The Tortoise and the Hare" by MacDonald, "Tone Down" and "Hevy Revy" by Elliott, "The Doctor and the Deacon" and "Attack of the 10 Octave Marimba" by Lawless, and "Pourpres Minus Rouges" and "Homonyme Fils" by Walter.
As a result of the eclectic nature of the composers, the diverse compositions reflect only one commonality among themselves—that of excellent musicianship and gifted improvisational solos from several keyboard soloists (both marimba and vibes). Of additional note are the solid drumset grooves by Elliott and MacDonald and the impeccable and realistic, foundational MalletKAT bass lines.
The overall effect of the CD is one of very clean performances and inspired individualistic compositional passion. "
Cameron University, Lawton, OK, USA