All sorts of jazz, free jazz and improv. Never for money, always for love.
A great way to appreciate Hamid Drake, one of the best free jazz drummers, is in a setting with tenor saxophone as his only accompanist. Oh, did I get that wrong? Yes, I know the proper way to refer to a tenor saxophone-drums duet is as an equal partnership. But most listeners will hear it as a trio without bass, placing the saxophone in the foreground. Depending as much as we do on recordings, which seldom capture a drummer’s nuances, only heightens this perception. For me the ideal entry into a free session is the drummer. In the best groups the drummer shapes the music and channels its energy. That’s certainly true here, where Drake teams up with Assif Tsahar.
Tsahar blows a powerful tenor saxophone, tracing the line from Rollins at his freest to Albert Ayler at his more accessible. The duo opens with “Warriors of Stillness”, a 17-minute lesson in how to shape a free performance. Drake starts with a devilishly enticing march cadence, sounding like the hippest damn one-man drum line in the land. Tsahar intones a simple minor-key melody. The piece unwinds systematically. Drake drives along the thematic sections with a steady rapping on his muffled snare and then rumbles around his set, as Tsahar breaks loose in wild outbursts. It’s uncanny the way they come back together midway through, though—Drake keeps the rim shots going even as Tsahar explodes building tension that’s released in his own solo. It’s the first of a session’s worth of notable drum outings, as Drake works out on his muffled snare and floor tom, rolling up to the cymbals to cap off his phrases. He builds to a climax with an injection of bass drum and a clash of cymbals before returning to the opening tattoo.
Each of the remaining five tunes has its own rewards. After the careful construction of the opener, “Praying Mantis” whips up a fury from beginning to end with Tsahar intoning smeared expressionistic runs in the middle register punctuated by strangled high notes. Drake’s solo is as brief, blunt, and furious as a first round knockout. “Mother and Father” is offered in memory of its composer, bassist Peter Kowald. As Drake’s polyrhythmic figures blaze the trail into the piece, I can imagine a bass vamp joining in. Instead, into that void steps Tsahar with a stately spiritual theme that unwinds over Drake’s spinning ten-beat cycles.
“Handing the Clouds” opens with Tsahar and Drake joining in a series of sudden distinct outbursts. Drake then shifts into a 3/4 groove that inspires bluesy commentary from Tsahar. Drake takes that rhythm and mutates it during his solo into a bottom-heavy funk that inspires more booting Tsahar tenor. The duo moves to conclude the set with the lush ballad “Grasp the Bird’s Tail”, which has Drake agitating on brushes underneath. The set closes with one chorus of “St. Thomas” that, as its ebullient theme statement and Drake’s groove bring calypso back to its African roots, epitomizes the practice of leaving your audience wanting more.
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