Hamid Drake: drum set, frame drum, tabla | Daniel Carter: tenor & alto saxophones, clarinet | Ernest Dawkins: tenor & alto saxophones, percussions | Sabir Mateen: tenor & alto saxophones, voice | Greg Ward: alto saxophone, clarinet | Nicole Mitchell (special guest): flute
Recorded on March 1st and 2nd 2005 by John McEntire at Soma studio (Chicago, Il, USA). Mixing: John McEntire. Mastering: Jean-Pierre Bouquet. Liner notes: Steve Dalachinsky and Alexandre Pierrepont. Photographs: Tony Getsug, Michael Jackson. Producer: Michel Dorbon
Tracklist: 1. Remembering Rituals (13:46) 2. Bindu #2 for Baba Fred Anderson (10:53) 3. A Prayer for the Bardo, for Baba Mechack Silas (8:37) 4. Meeting and Parting (11:09) 5. Born upon a Lotus (3:04) 6. Bindu #1 for Ed Blackwell (6:27) 7. Bindu #1 for Ed Blackwell, from Bindu to Ojas (6:08) 8. Do Khyentse’s Journey, 139 years and more (13:27)
Who could have imagined that Hamid Drake
would wait such a long time before giving life to his first band – as a leader that is? As one of the most important drummers in Afro-American music’s History, Drake is the guide to many musicians the world over while his rich, thorough, eclectic and fully controlled playing is used as the backbone to many orchestras. For ages, his numerous duets gave us a clear view of his music skills but this first recording as the leader of Bindu allows Hamid Drake the necessary space to fully display at last his own brilliant and original expression. No matter how unusual the orchestra is (four reeds and a drum), we really are confronted here with a great band. Who else than Hamid Drake would have dared to pick such strong personalities as Ernest Dawkins and Greg Ward from Chicago, Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen from New York, with no other goal and challenge than a meeting of pioneers willing to break new grounds? And what more beautiful introduction to this musical structure could be made than this duet with Nicole Mitchell and her refined, sparkling playing? It won’t be difficult, in these circumstances, to forgive Hamid Drake for having taken his time so long before leading such a group. Hamid Drake, we thank you for honoring us with that perfect Rogue Art opening.
Sabir Mateen, Greg Ward, Hamid Drake, Daniel Carter, Ernest Dawkins (from left to right) | Photo by Tony Getsug
Hamid Drake has long kept heavy company.
Whether girding Peter Brötzmann’s geysering reed ejaculations with precision snare and cymbal accents or supplying plump dub beats in a trio like Spaceways Incorporated, he always seems to have the right range of rhythms for the job. With all the plenteous sideman work his own opportunities as principal have come at a cost, prompting the perennial question: “When is he going to release a record as a bandleader?” Bindu rights the score by featuring him at the fore of an eponymous ensemble composed of major league colleagues and friends.
Several things about the disc are striking on paper. Firstly there’s the length: eight tracks occupying nearly one and a quarter hours of music, a generous program by any measure. Next there’s the band, a flotilla of formidable reeds (a total of eleven in the arsenal) balanced against the fulcrum of Drake’s drums. Levied against a lesser man, the phalanx of Daniel Carter, Ernest Dawkins, Sabir Mateen, and Greg Ward might seem a no-contest proposition. In Drake’s case it’s an even bet. Down Beat polls continue to barely register his presence, but there are legions of listeners who wouldn’t hesitate at placing his name at the top of the pyramid.
The true surprises arrive in the music. Drake’s compositions emphasize confluence over competition, melody and restraint rather than flossy extended techniques and empty intensity—an apropos extension of his own philosophy toward percussion as a supportive force rather than aggrandizing source for prestige and gain. What charts there are unfold relatively frills-free, stressing limber spirited improvisations and loose anthemic harmonies that play to the horns’ strengths. All allow the drummer plenty of room to move, each limb laboring in reciprocal solidarity with its counterparts to ensure the superfluousness of a formal bass presence start to finish.
“Remembering Rituals” features guest flautist Nicole Mitchell (who’s returned Drake’s favor by featuring him regularly in her Black Earth Ensemble) in a meditative and occasionally meandering conversation with frame drum that sets an abiding mood for much of the remainder of the record. Subsequent pieces pay overt tribute to several of Drake’s mentors. The rippling, riff-driven “Bindu #2” is for Fred Anderson, while a pair of funky Second Line shuffles, both dubbed “Bindu #1”, are dedicated to Ed Blackwell. The second features wild glossolalia from Mateen and slinky hand percussion by Dawkins.
The clarinet-heavy “Prayer for the Bardo” evolves as a funereal processional with someone (probably Dawkins) supplying slide whistle comic relief. On “Meeting and Parting”, Drake shapes an undulating tabla line while the horns launch solos in measured succession against a back-weave of legato tones. Sections of collective aggression arise periodically, but the album sticks mainly to the province of meditative moods. The sustained contemplative cast requires patience in places, and the craving for more frequent dust-ups becomes somewhat difficult to suppress. Still, it’s a program that demands repeat spins to uncover the full number of nuances and layered traits stitched into the canorous fabric of the band’s interplay.
I’ve long pined for the advent of a solo Drake record, even going so far as to seriously entertain starting a label to help facilitate its fruition. The colorfully and enigmatically titled closer “Do Khyentse’s Journey, 139 Years and More” partially sates that long-standing need with a 13-minute strong showcase for leader and kit sans any sort of accompaniment. Gliding with leonine grace across his sound palette of stretched and tempered surfaces, Drake sculpts an overarching structure rich in both rumination and supple drama that is downright orchestral in scope. Ground has finally been broken: the future for forthcoming releases from the Man with the Smiling Forehead looks very bright indeed. — Derek Taylor
Nicole Mitchell | Photo by Michael Jackson
CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)