Hamid Drake & Bindu - Blissful
RogueArt 11
Besides the common denominator of Hamid Drake, the second
incarnation of Bindu bears little resemblance to its predecessor. The
first ensemble attached to the moniker featured the drummer in the
company of a formidable phalanx of horns. This time out the
sounding board is a battery of strings, along with vocalist Dee
Alexander who sings lyrics lifted from translated Indian Ramprasad
poems. Rhythm in myriad guises predictably frames each of the
pieces and Drake sounds his usual supple and reflexive self whether
working off kit, tabla, bata or peripheral percussion. Guitarists Joe
Morris and Jeff Parker join the bass team of William Parker and Josh
Abrams. Morris also handles banjo, his brittle cyclic riffing sounding
almost oud-like on the invocational “My Blissful Mother”. Parker
hoists shenai in lieu of bass, leaving Abrams to ably handle the
bottom end. As with much of the music here, the sum feels at least
partially undercooked in its discursive path from onset to end. The
effect is sometimes akin to that of a celebrity “drum circle” where
the talent isn’t commensurate with the relative tenuousness of the
chosen material.
The dancing plectrums of Morris and Parker dominate “Playful
Dance at Soma” and make for a promising start. Drake joins in with
a slinky reggae groove flanked by the bassists’ fat pizzicato braid.
Parker and Abrams coax control for a brief interlude of their own,
but it’s largely the guitarists who court the spark of Drake’s
attention. “Visions of Ma” couples Alexander’s soulful wordless
cooing with Drake’s frame drum undulations. “Supreme Lady
Victorious in Battle” echoes some of the ungainliness of its title. The
overlapping rhythms jibe precariously with Alexander’s spoken-sung
text of Eastern religious imagery. Awash in a shambolic rhythmic
stew of shenai, guimbri, banjo and bata, “Only Longing of My Soul”
is another chancy enterprise that yields mixed outcomes. “There is
Nothing Left But You” centers on another prayer this time colored
by Parker’s doson ngoni, which settles on a repeating riff that
enhances the meditative mood.
At nearly a quarter of an hour it clocks a bit long and Alexander’s
litany of African American luminaries in the closing minutes makes
for particularly axiomatic gruel.Earnestness and good vibrations are
present in abundance, but neither element is enough to counter the
perception that the project could’ve benefited from a bit more prep
time and ambition. Tuneful, delicate and instantly charming,
Drake’s “The Beautiful Names” suggests a promising template
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alternative of brevity and focus, but sadly it’s the album’s final cut.
There’s interplay of interest here, but compared to the consistency
of the first Bindu conclave the album consequently comes in second.
Derek Taylor
All About Jazz
Blissful - Hamid Drake and Bindu
Rogue Art (2008)
By Lyn Horton
For every musician, music is a serious endeavor and one that has
no equal. Yet, music also means something different for each
musician and it is this difference that generates vitality of the art.
For drummer Hamid Drake, music links him to an explicitly spiritual
The name of his group, Bindu, finds its source in Yoga practice.
Bindu signifies the turning point from one plane of mediation to
another, where all Yoga meditation practices converge. That point
marks the density and complexity, the simplicity and subtlety of
time, space and mind.
Blissful is the second recording for Bindu. The group has changed
personnel, but the power of the music has not. Drake and his fellow
improvisers create the music for all of the songs; any lyrics sung by
vocalist Dee Alexander were written by the 18th century Indian
poet, Ramprasad Sen.
On “My Blissful Mother,” a monotone opening from the shenai and
voice, soon joined by a feathering of the banjo-like guimbri and
bata, rolls out a sonic carpet where focus can sharpen. The
improvised instrumental passes through about eight minutes before
Dee Alexander breaks into an a cappella section where Drake
shapes a rhythmic pattern on the frame drum to lock the ensemble
into a ceaseless chant. The guitar snakes in and out of the musical
line. The rhythm undergoes several changes. By the conclusion, the
guimbri and the frame drum fade out into nothingness.
But something re-enters. Joe Morris and Jeff Parker interlace a twoguitar microtonal conversation. Drake picks up the sticks to play his
drum set and yet another realm of sound is explored. The guitar
lines transform and overlap into string bass lines. The arco and
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pizzicato skillfulness from William Parker and Josh Abrams bounce
through an upbeat, quick-paced vibrational field. The full
complement of instruments joins together to resolve “Playful Dance
at Soma.”
The balance of the recording is nothing less than inspirational. In
every song, long or short, an intricately diverse instrumentation
conveys a sacred message of Kali, the Hindu Mother goddess.
Alexander's high- pitched often syllabic vocals become instrumental
in themselves (”There Is Nothing Left But You”). The doson ngoni
expresses the pulse as much as the drumming does. The shenai
communicates a dissonance suggesting a dance-like character to
the singing and recitation of the poetry.
Because Drake's musical life is defined by rhythm, the rhythmic
influence naturally affects how the music is spawned. The drum set
inserts a rapid insistence that describes straight-ahead 4/4 count
sensibilities, whereas the exotic tabla, bata and frame drum speak
highly regulated cyclical rhythm lines which are penetrating and
inviting. Drake's miraculous infallibility as percussionist and
drummer can never dissolve; he blazes his path into the bandleader
position with no less acuity.
When Drake springs off the tabla on “The Beautiful Names” and
sings the final song, his male voice grounds a spontaneous musical
connection to serenity, and appeals to the raising of consciousness,
above materiality, into a realm of pure experience, musical or
Track listing: My Blissful Mother; Playful Dance at Soma; Visions of
Ma; Supreme Lay Victorious in Battle; Only Longing of My Soul;
There Is Nothing Left But You; The Beautiful Names.
Personnel: Hamid Drake: drums, frame drum, table, bata, vocals;
Dee Alexander: vocals; Joe Morris: guitar, banjo; Jeff Parker:
guitar; William Parker: bass, guimbri, shenai, doson ngoni; Josh
Abrams: bass, guimbri.
Hamid Drake & Bindu - Blissful
(RogueArt, 2008) ***
Hamid Drake is not only a great drummer with a very recognizable
style, he's also carved out his own niche of spiritual world jazz,
almost always in collaboration with bassist William Parker. On
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"Blissful" they move a step further from "Piercing The Veil" and
"Summer Snow", now completely merging jazz with world music, by
adding the guitars of Jeff Parker and Joe Morris, and the bass of
Josh Abrams. Next to their usual instruments, other more exotic
ones join the party: shenai, guimbri, doson ngoni, tabla and banjo.
As the title suggests, the music's goal is a spiritual one, here
illustrated by the poems by Ramprasad Sen , an 18th Century
Indian poet, who worshipped Kali, the "Divine Mother" in hinduism,
the female principle, but also the goddess of destruction, not in the
physical sense, but rather of ignorance, self-centeredness, and the
like. The poems are narrated and sung by Dee Alexander, and her
task is not an easy one, because Ramprasad's poetry is not only not
very poetic, it's also not very lyrical, with lots of abstract words and
unequal rhythm. To give you an idea :
"O Mediator, hold this astonishing feminine presence
at the center of consciousness
Her three eyes are the moon of tenderness, the sun of power,
and the cosmic wisdom fire that dissolves the universe.
Her gaze creates a lover's intimacy.
This Warrior Woman, fountain of blessing,
whose daughter is she?
What motives draws her into the battlefield
this vast display of universal suffering?"
And this is just a small extract of the very long poems. Her singing
is excellent, but the lyrics are awful, and - despite their possible
value in terms of content -are in fact the antithesis of the music,
which is, like the other albums by Drake and Parker, full of energy,
rhythmic complexities, while still being unbelievably pure and
authentic. The best tracks on the album, in my view are the ones in
which there is either no singing, or just worldless singing as on
"Visions Of Ma". On his other albums Drake managed to create an
immediate and deep spiritual intimacy, strongly expressed by the
limited instrumentation and his own reverent singing. Now, the
higher complexity of both the instrumentation and the emotionless,
too abstract philosophical lyrics, create a distance which should not
be there. Otherwise, the music is nice, with lots of North-African,
Central African and Asian melodies and rhythms, and the interesting
mix of instruments leads to really great moments. Listen to the end
of "Supreme Lady Victorious In Battle", which really becomes great
once Dee Alexander's singing becomes wordless improvisation, or to
"There Is Nothing Left But You", a duo between frame drum and
vocal, on which Dee Alexander is brilliant as long as there is no text
to sing, truly using her voice as an instrument in its own right.
Strangely enough, when Drake sings on the last track, he does so in
hindi (I think), and the match is better. My feelings are mixed, I feel
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attraction and repulsion at the same time.
But I must admit, I'm not a vocals fan, and I'm surely not a fan of
spoken word in music.
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New Issues
Yea, Sure, We Can Still Be
Friends, Whatever / Go
Ahead, Take The Furniture, At
Least You Helped Pick It Out
/ My Love Is Love, Your Love
Is Hate / Your Parents Must
Be Just Ecstatic Now / I Was
Good Enough For You Until
Your Friends Butted In / You
Used To Say I Love You But So
What Now. 62:14.
Fields, el g; Sebastian Gramss, b;
Joao Lobo, d. Cologne, Germany,
Hamid Drake by Jimmie Jones
BINDU Instead it’s largely melodic and concentrated. Fields constantly spits
and dribbles out notes in stream-of-consciousness fashion, like he
BLISSFUL was trying to instantly play all the thoughts racing through his head.
My Blissful Mother / Playful
Dance At Soma / Visions Of
Ma / Supreme Lady Victorious
In Battle / Only Longing Of
My Soul / There Is Nothing
Left But You / The Beautiful
Names. 68:47.
Drake, d, frame d, tabla, bata, vcl;
Dee Alexander, vcl; Jeff Parker, g;
Joe Morris, g, bjo; William Parker,
b, guimbri, shenai, doson ngoni;
Josh Abrams, b, guimbri. 7/1213/07, Chicago, IL.
140 |
The first two tracks are the speediest. “My Love Is Love” settles
down a bit into Progressive Rock repetition as Fields’ guitar engages in a tuneful ping pong match with Sebastian Gramss’ bass. The
next two tracks are more abstract with bass and drums threatening
to settle into a shuffle beat on “Your Parents” and “I Was Good
Enough” featuring woozy, hungover guitar chords and creeping
bass plucks. The closing “You Used To Say” is another quickstepping screed with Fields aping the speed and precision of a sitar.
Whatever bad times Scott Fields went through did wonders for his
music. This is the most focused work I have ever heard from him.
(5) utilizes two fine guitarists, Jeff Parker and Joe Morris, in a
larger group context. The last time Hamid Drake recorded with his
group, Bindu (4/06, p.121), it was a sax-heavy version. This time
out it’s all rhythm and voice in a mixture of spirituality, sensuality,
and soul. On “Blissful Mother” and “Only Longing,” guitar, banjo,
shenai, and hand drums all swirl together while Dee Alexander
sings Tantric poetry over the top, evoking the stirring beauty of
Jeanne Lee. The two guitarists slip and slide around a reggae beat
on “Playful Dance” and play jogging Jazz chords under Alexander’s
soulful wailing on “Supreme Lady.” The most powerful piece,
- feb - mar 2009
New Issues
“There Is Nothing Left,” belongs, instrumentally, largely to William
Parker as he sets up a rock hard African vamp on doson gouni
which underlines Alexander’s prayerful singing and recitation of the
names of famous African-American women such as Harriet Tubman
and Alice Coltrane. This is a mesmerizing piece of work from the
ecstatic end of Jazz, full of transcendent power and depth.
Jerome Wilson
laying together as a working unit since 1987, the dream trio
of Lake, Workman, and Cyrille has made a handful of records
centered on their solid musicianship, liquid compositional strucTHE SUNSET tures, and daring sensibilities. Though all leaders in their own right,
Gazzelloni / Amreen / ZC
/ Come On Home, Baby /
Willow Song / Striation /
Wha’s Nine / Hasan. 70:42.
Oliver Lake, as; Reggie Workman,
b; Andrew Cyrille, d.
Oct. 28, 2007, Paris, France.
Rafael Garrett by Greg Turner
the simply-named Trio 3 is a cooperative conglomeration with the
stated goal of achieving “organic improvisation,” a feat which they
accomplish rather successfully. With this, their fifth release, the trio
appears at the Sunset Club in Paris, with this document capturing
five pieces written by the group’s members, as well as three covers
from Eric Dolphy, pianist Curtis Clark, and Leroy Jenkins.
For sure, the success of the record results from not only the
collective wealth of their experiences and their resulting interest
in cross-spectrum delights of the music, but also, their huge ears.
Such intuitive communication is readily apparent on the glorious
ride of Dolphy’s “Gazzelloni,” with Lake’s sparkling alto replacing
Dolphy to put the trio’s stamp on the classic. As for the other pieces
written by outsiders, Workman’s introspective bass sets the tone for
Clark’s “Amreen,” a feature for his strong pizzicato work, as well
as gentle musings from Cyrille. Jenkins’ “Come On Home, Baby”
evokes its core thematic statements throughout, though Lake’s soaring lines and the restless rhythms from Workman and Cyrille make
it a fitting dedication to the late Jenkins.
As for the group’s own pieces, Cyrille’s midtempo pace of “ZC”
has the group centering on Blues territory, while “Striation” thrives on
its in-the-moment adventurousness. Additionally, Workman’s “Willow
Song” is reflective at its core, with Workman’s forthright arco, Cyrille’s
languid tom and cymbal work, and Lake’s incisive flights, while
“Wha’s Nine” offers a heady groove with folkish underpinnings. To
round out the spirited affair, Lake’s “Hasan” is yet another signpost
for Cyrille’s brilliant drumming, with Lake’s memorable theme sending the Parisians home quite sated. It is surely a treat that such masters have hooked up with one another and, further, that they continue
to make music at such a consistently high level.
Jay Collins
- feb - mar 2009 |
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