December 20, 2004
FRED ANDERSON/HAMID DRAKE
Back Together Again
Thrill Jockey thrill 139
Thirty years after they first played together Chicago-based tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson and drummer Hamid Drake have finally got around to recording a duo session.
Fuelled by the flexible sophistication of the percussionist and the homebody maturity of Anderson, there are many fine passages throughout. But as good as it gets, the limitations of hearing only one saxophone and a drummer over more than 72½-minutes — plus an additional CD that includes a QuickTime movie — are apparent.
Known as the lone prophet of the Prairie, Anderson, a founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in the 1960s, kept a low profile for many years. Although he has led bands since that time, its only in the past decade that Anderson, and the Velvet Lounge bar he runs on the citys near South Side have become internationally known.
Many of his earlier bands were almost workshops for developing talent and his most promising discovery was Drake. Although born in Andersons hometown, Monroe, La., the drummer was younger than Andersons sons were when he finally hooked up with the older man in Chicago. His versatility in all forms of music has since led to Drake becoming an in-demand percussionist internationally. His associations range from kora player Foday Musa Suso, sintar player Hassan Hakmoun, German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann plus longtime connections with reedist Ken Vandermark and New York bassist William Parker.
Here Drakes game plan involves outlays of cross-sticking, inverted sticking, bounces, flams, ruffs and rebounds on the regular kit, as well as an extended workout on the resonating frame drum.
Its his work on that primitive instrument, highlighted on Lama Khyenno (Dearly Beloved), thats most illustrative of the connections and separateness of the two men. For almost 13 minutes, Drake coaxes a variety of echoes and vibrations out of the large hand drum, chanting and whispering as he manipulates the single drum skin. While keeping the ratcheting beat, the percussionists outlay is undeniably mystical, not imitation Third World, the way some jazzbos have approached these sorts of sounds.
While Drake follows his muse, Anderson, whose duo drum partners encompass Robert Barry and Kahil ElZabar, spins out breathy obbligatos that give as much shape to the others lines, as if he was backing up a Billie Holiday ballad, not an ancient chant.
Black Woman, which Anderson first recorded in the mid-1990s with a quartet featuring Drake, is another standout. With the saxmans spiky melody made even starker with minimalist backing, Drake contributes hi-hat splatters and bass drum thumps, while the theme picks up a certain chant-like elaboration.
The older mans hard and austere texture, with its echoes of 1960s Sonny Rollins, is still flexible enough to adapt when Drakes hand drumming begins sounding as if hes whaling a Native Indian drum. Other places Andersons repetitions and pitch vibrations often push the younger man into New Thing-like door-knocking rhythms and rim shots.
A shared background may be why the aptly named Louisiana Strut appears to shift from calypso to Zydeco. But its not the only place Drake plays a shimmy. His shuffle rhythm is so authentic he could be playing at a country dance, while Andersons flutter tonguing repeats the same lilting phrases. Putting aside so-called modernism he follows Drakes flams and hi-hat paradiddles by reprising the melody as the finale.
The almost 14-minute title track points out all the strengths and weaknesses of this dual approach. Although Drake lets loose with beboppy slams and Anderson repeatedly worries phrases with characteristic long-lined but unbending runs, hands, feet and lungs can only produce so many variations. With snorts and glottal stops, Anderson complements Drakes counter rhythms. Yet by the time the last note is sounded, your aural memory isnt of the lighter phrases, but of how close this tune sounds to others.
Committed Anderson and Drake fans may ascribe more strength to this singular meeting. Yet the challenges and color of larger combos seem to work better for both.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Leap Forward 2. Black Woman 3. Back Together Again 4. Losel Drolma 5. A Ray from THE ONE 6. Louisiana Strut 7. Know Your Advantage 8. Lama Khyenno (Dearly Beloved)
Personnel: Fred Anderson (tenor saxophone); Hamid Drake (drums)