Hamid Drake

Devin Brahja Waldman/Hamid Drake: Mediumistic Methodology (Astral Spirits)


Ken Vandermark/Hamid Drake: Eternal River (Corbett vs. Dempsey)


It’s a secret few drummers unlock: the art of playing so melodically as to create relationships between their instrument (of indeterminate pitch) and other instruments (of determinate pitch) that imply a kind of harmony. Max Roach, Ed Blackwell, Paul Motian and Jack DeJohnette spring to mind, as does Hamid Drake. It’s especially pertinent when duetting, because suddenly the interrelationship reaches beyond rhythmic, melodic and textural areas into a rarefied zone where the two instruments seem to fatten each other’s notes.

It demands drummers exert supreme control in nuancing such elements as dynamics, attack, overtones, pitch-bending and the choice of simultaneous sounds coming their four limbs. Listen to how Drake does it on “Table Turner” from his duo album with alto saxophonist Devin Brahja Waldman, Mediumistic Methodology. This is an extended piece based around a fanfare-like motif, and Drake creates an ever-shifting sound-world of implied harmonic contextualisation for Waldman’s astonishing forays. By contrast the opening “Knock Knock” has them barely frosting silence with overtones and shakers: music that makes you lean forward to listen, rather than pushing you back. Yet they keep you in suspense with the unfolding beauty and sense of power held in reserve. When that power is unleashed—with Waldman’s alto sounding like some gnarly, double-reed instrument, and Drake increasing volume rather than density—the earlier intricacy of the conversation is sustained.

Trumpeter Don Cherry’s 1960s-80s dialogues with Blackwell were duet masterworks, and Drake enjoyed a strong personal relationship with Cherry, which makes another new duo album, the live Eternal River with long-term collaborator Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone), an especially heartfelt project. They revisit classic Cherry compositions in flowing medleys (as the composer was wont to do), including “Elephantasy”, “El Corazon”, “Brown Rice” and “Complete Communion”. Drake is consistently at his most melodic, while maintaining his instinct for harmony-like shading as he engages in thrilling interplay with Vandermark’s scalding tenor. It’s fascinating to hear these pieces reimagined, and anyone doing anything to keep the Cherry legacy alive does the world a huge favour.