Hamid Drake/Sylvain Kassap

Heads or Tails
RogueArt ROG-0072

By Ken Waxman

Facility, rhythm and invention unite in the playing of Chicago’s Hamid Drake, one of the go-to percussionists in improvised music. That’s because Drake is both Clark Kent and Superman: able to power the most extravagant free-blowing ensemble as well as use subtle beats to advance a narrative. At his best in small groups, the drummer is absorbingly paired with a reedist of equal skill on this two-CD set.

Parisian Sylvain Kassap, master of almost every clarinet extant, slides fluidly between playing notated and improvised music, with detours into theatre and electronics. Heads or Tails is illustrative of this duo’s art, with one CD of extended performances and the other 13 studio sessions. Putting quick-change artists to shame, the duo demonstrates faultless command of moods and inferences throughout the second disc. Whether it’s temple-bell-like resonations atop a buzzing reed ostinato on “Everyone Holds Its Breath”; the clarinetist’s agile slide from bagpipe-chanter to flute-like timbres on “Stubborn Old Folks”; Drake craftily shifting drum vibrations from irregular to steady on “Heavy Traffic”; or a piquant duet in near swing rhythm on “Downtown Riots”; singly and together the two are as in-sync as trapeze artists.

Discerningly titled Mutual Respect, CD1’s over 24½-minute showcase could be termed the 3-D version of the standard films on the other disc. Enthusiasm is maintained with an ever-shifting landscape, with watery trills or sweet puffs on Kassap’s part succeeded by hard slurs or separate melodies from a deconstructed clarinet, aptly paced by Drake’s rolls, paradiddles, frame-drum throbs and pauses.

-For The Whole Note June 2017