Hamid Drake & Bindu

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With the ensemble and the CD entitled Bindu, an Indian concept that signifies action as in worship or prayer, you know that this almost 75-minute, eight-track CD is not going to be a standard blowing session.

A further look at the personnel confirms this. Leader Hamid Drake plays drums, percussion and tabla, while the other participants are four saxophonists – Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen from New York; and Greg Ward and Ernest Dawkins from Chicago plus Windy City flautist Nicole Mitchell. The reason why the CD is not wholly satisfying however is that the date is segmented: harder, fast-paced riff pieces featuring the reed players and two devotional pieces, the lengthiest of the set.

Moving among his extended percussion kit, which ranges from J. Arthur Rank-like gongs to regular snares, cymbals and floor toms and on to sound makers that resemble congas, bongos, djembes and batás, Drake manipulates and maneuvers them to confirm why his rhythmic aptitude is in demand literally throughout the world. Yet the result may be more inspirational for those who worship at the alters of Paiste and Sonar etc. than those seeking a group identity from Bindu. There’s also a short prelude to this display of spiritual percussion placed midway on the disc.

Similarly, in fact, the lead off track finds Mitchell at variance with the other players. Sticking to complementary hand and palm modulated rhythms, with African echoes, the percussionist only allows the flutist full range for her improvisations. Moving between mostly legit-sounding trills and sometimes raggedy duple-toned timbres, Mitchell proves that her traverse mastery is on the level of Drake’s percussion chops. Together the two oscillate space filling tones that speed up and slow down as she showcases Pan-flute like reverberations, piccolo-shrill double tones and harsh, almost electronically altered overblowing with the same facility.

Regrettably those instrumental stunners seem to be designed for a different CD than the five tracks with Carter, Mateen, Ward and Dawkins. Honoring some of Drake’s heroes such as tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson and drummer Ed Blackwell most of the action takes place with distinctive, vamping call-and-response trills plus outward sounding vibrations from all the horns as the drummer pitter patters on conga and other diminutive parts of his kit.

Most memorable is the consecutive “Bindu #1 for Ed Blackwell” and “Bindu #1 for Ed Blackwell, from Bindu to Ojas”. Despite the mystical trappings of the title, both contain the sort of funky, pared-to-the-bone riffing that wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to Count Basie’s or any other Southwestern territory band reed section. Off-kilter foot-tappers, they highlight irregular vibrated split tones and glottal punctuates from one altoist, double tongued, overblown honks from one of the tenorists and intense ornamentation from a clarinetist as Drake supplies triple-metered Africanized beats.

Unhappily none of the soloists are identified, which is a drawback when four of the horn men play alto saxophone, three tenor and two clarinet. Only Matten stands out because of his guttural chanting screaming and yodeling on the second tune.

Drake’s major devotional and rhythmic statement has many fine moments scattered among the eight tracks here. But those who prefer the music a bit more chordal and cerebral associations will have to live with disappointments.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Remembering Rituals* 2. Bindu #1 for Baba Fred Anderson+ 3. A Prayer for the Bardo, for Baba Mechack Silas+ 4. Meeting and Parting+ 5. Born Upon a Lotus 6 Bindu #1 for Ed Blackwell+ 7. Bindu #1 for Ed Blackwell, from Bindu to Ojas+ 8. Do Khyentse’s Journey, 139 Years and More

Personnel: Daniel Carter (tenor and alto saxophone and clarinet)+; Greg Ward (alto saxophone and clarinet)+; Ernest Dawkins (tenor and alto saxophone and percussion) +; Sabir Mateen (tenor and alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet and voice); Nicole Mitchell (flute)*; Hamid Drake (drums, percussion, tabla and voice)