Big hits: Dave King, Babatunde Lea


Drummer David King and bassist Reid Anderson of The Bad Plus perform at George Wein's Carefusion Newport Jazz 55 in Newport, R.I. on Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009. (AP Photo/Joe Giblin)

The last time I saw drummer Dave King, he was playing a duet with drummer J.T. Bates, in an inventive and playful set of music that was as imaginative as it was rhythmic.

It was a natural setting for King, the affable drummer for The Bad Plus who is helping to redefine the role of the drums in a trio setting.

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When King sits at the drum set, he puts jazz tradition aside, drawing on rock beats and other influences to augment the other instruments on stage. That's what makes The Bad Plus a trio of equals, with the spotlight equally on piano, bass and drums.

But anyone who thinks King can't swing with the best of them would be mistaken, as the drummer remarkably demonstrated during the trio's set with saxophonist Joshua Redman during the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.

Indeed, King pushed the band to stirring heights, so much so that the concert-goers I sat next to that night couldn't help but exclaim how the drummer's work was a highlight of the show.

If there are any doubters still out there, King likely will set them to rest with "I've Been Ringing You," a new album of mostly standards on Sunnyside Records. Joining him on the recording are two of the Twin Cities most-respected musicians: pianist Bill Carrothers and bassist Billy Peterson.

They'll take the stage tonight and Saturday at St. Paul's Artists Quarter, in shows that are certain to be classy sets.

The call of Africa

Another drummer that I can't hear enough of these days is Babatunde Lea, the world-class musician who is taking the local scene by storm.

Lea is a master of African rhythms from the western hemisphere who has long explored the music of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti and other countries that are part of the African diaspora.

He's bringing a spiritual jazz steeped in the African tradition to the Twin Cities.

Lea performs Friday and Saturday with guitarist Zacc Harris and bassist Adam Linz at the new Café Maude at Loring in Minneapolis.