Few drummers can tackle the stresses and challenges laid bare in a setting with reeds as sole partner and still hold onto their share of the proceedings. Perhaps the historical role of drums as time-keeper and rhythmic stanchion is the culprit, or possibly it’s the reluctance of most jazz percussionists to stray beyond the historical strictures placed on their kits that’s to blame? Whatever the reason there aren’t may players that can thrive in such a partnership. At the forefront of the elite number who can sits Hamid Drake, with countenance grinning and sticks poised. His confidence is well substantiated by a string of duet releases over the years that include memorable meetings with Peter Brötzmann, Assif Tsahar and Joe McPhee. In each instance no matter how far out his saxophonic foil goes, Drake always seems to keep things terrestrially-grounded through an omnipresent rhythmic sense.
An examination of the existing ledger of precedence points to Sabir Mateen as the next logical next step in Drake’s blossoming catalog of encounters. As one of the most creatively volatile reed smiths on the scene Mateen’s been privy to countless high-energy gigs, both with the working underground ensemble Test and at the helm of his own aggregations. His preference for a wide arsenal of horns and rugged disregard for register restrictions parallels Drake’s own pan-directional approach to percussion. In other words, the disc’s title doesn’t lie- these two are brethren artists through and through. Most importantly both men treat their meeting not as an academic exercise or technique-driven cutting contest, but instead as an ebullient chance to blow. The praxis of the title track puts this feel-good philosophy into practice from the onset as Drake carves out a rolling backbeat bolstered groove for Mateen to paint choppy intervallic phrases across. The feel is at once loose-limbed and tightly in the pocket- a feat both players are regularly used to accomplishing, but one that is no less miraculous in its execution. Stretching over a third of an hour the improvisation wisely travels paths other than its opening salvo with Drake cleaving the track in two through a solo of incisive diversity.
Mateen unsheathes other implements on proceeding tracks. First comes clarinet in close conference with Drake’s flurried hand drum on “Of Mind & Spirit,” followed by a less focused foray on the same reed during the opening minutes of “Knowing Oneself.” Mateen soon marshals his concentration and the track coalesces into some heated interplay replete with overblowing and register bounding bursts. ‘New Life Dance,” while ambitiously multi-faceted and stocked with some fine moments, slips in points on its own girth. Mateen’s choice to employ flute as principal voice throughout the bulk of duration ranks as one of the culprits and results in an occasional pall of tonal stasis in points. But the meandering moments are mostly short-lived thanks mainly to Drake’s relentlessly varied rhythms and Mateen’s surprising stab at spirited vocalese. Both make the overall Gestalt well worth investigating and the missteps truly minor. Drake and Mateen have done something not many can do. They’ve taken a framework many of their peers are justly wary of and breathed fresh life into it- testament to both their abilities as improvisers and the synergy they share as musical brothers.
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Personnel: Hamid Drake (frame & trap drums)/ Sabir Mateen (clarinets, flute, alto &
tenor saxophones, vocals). Recorded: October 23, 200, Westwood, MA.