William Hooker Duo

Featuring Mark Hennen
Nacht No #

William Hooker Quintet

Channels of Consciousness

No Business Records NBCD 52

By Ken Waxman

With a career that stretches back to NYC’s loft era, drummer William Hooker tries to create something unique with each CD. Considering that past discs have featured players as different as Lee Ranaldo and Sabir Mateen, the challenge of a Hooker session is how well the concept succeeds.

Both recorded live, Channels of Consciousness and Duo couldn’t be more different. The former, although inspired by an unfinished novel, is fully formed with sterling work from a quintet featuring percussionist Sanga; bassist Adam Lane, known for his jazz skills; trumpeter Chris DiMeglio, who usually plays notated music; and guitarist Dave Ross, who bounces among jazz, funk and rock. Duo captures solos from Hooker and long-time associate pianist Mark Hennen, but only gels when the two finally improvise together.

Based on Richard Wright’s posthumously published A Father’s Law, the quintet CD is an extended meditation on power and violence. Hooker quotes from Wright’s book in two instances, loosely linking the commanding improvisations to a father-son relationship seen through the prism of decision-making and murder. But to be frank, the emotion expressed by Ross’ whining bottleneck guitar alongside the composer’s timed cowbell smacks expresses more drama than the out-of-context phrases. In the same way, the quintet’s emotionally affecting instrumental smarts trump thematic story telling. This is made clear with “Connected” and “Three Hexagons”. Earlier, DiMeglio expresses himself with clarion calls and note bending, but on these climatic tunes he reaches back to bedrock jazz to contrast his tremolo tones with metallic strums from the guitarist plus the drummer’s backbeat. Likewise, Lane’s most comprehensive solo unrolls on “Three Hexagons”, as sul ponticello strokes and chiming scrubs hold their own alongside Ross’s sharp picking, the trumpeter’s poised grace notes and polyrhythms from the dual drummers.

Just as Channels of Consciousness is notable in spite of the literary link, so too does the CD depend on the other players’ contributions besides vigorous expressions from the inventive percussionists. Spectacularly, Hooker’s and Sanga’s patterning and blunt strokes reference African, Afro-Cuban as well as jazz inflections. But unlike a solipsistic Max Roach percussion ensemble, the drum pounding is strictly transformative. The music’s full spectrum wouldn’t exist if not for input like the guitarist’s intense blues notes or DiMeglio’s elevated timbres that often sound like those of a baroque trumpet.

Hooker also verbalizes a metaphysically oriented poem on Duo, but, especially with dodgy recording, more rewarding sentiments come from his spot-on playing. Minutely timing his options during his solo track, he intertwines press rolls, gong resonation and rat-tat-tats with assurance, calmly slowing down and speeding up the result without hesitation.

If younger players like DiMeglio and Ross dazzle with unheralded bravado, then Hennen’s calm is the defining factor in his playing. Known for his work with hard-nosed ensembles like the Collective 4tet, here Hennen reveals a lyrical side. Energetically expressed, his sweeping harmonies and tinkling key dusting reveal sound nuances and shading.

These components came into play in the final duet as Hennen’s linear key motions, meander tortoise-like through the exposition as Hooker leaps hare-like through a series of boisterous buzzing and resounding percussion displays. Without losing his subtle voicing, mid-way through Hennen variations turn to Cecil Taylor-like contrasting dynamics, which eventually corral the drummer’s agitated pummeling into a more cooperative interface. Although Hooker never attains the ingenious pianist’s level of unhurried syncopation, his output remains tasteful even as he maintains propulsive rhythms.

Balanced as it becomes, Duo still is overshadowed by the compelling quintet work on Channels of Consciousness, although Hooker aficionados may want both.

Tracks: Channels: The Unfolding; Compelling Influences; Thought and Intention; Lower Interlude; Character; Connected; Three Hexagons; Mother's History (untold)

Personnel: Channels: Chris DiMeglio: trumpet; Dave Ross: guitar; Adam Lane: bass; William Hooker: drums: Sanga: percussion

Tracks: Duo: 1, ii; iii; iv

Personnel: Duo: Mark Hennen: piano; William Hooker: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record March 2013