William Parker/Joe Morris/Hamid Drake: Eloping With The Sun (2003)
When jazz players harness African music, it's always interesting to see what forms the musicians preserve from each style. After all, the goal of such a hybrid is to preserve elements of both traditions in order to achieve a result that is more than the sum of its parts.
Eloping With The Sun has the happy property of being such a synergistic mixture. More than any record of its kind in recent history, it captures the spirit of African music. In North Africa, from which these instruments and styles originate, traditional musical performance is often all about trance. Musicians engage in extended group improvisations (around a form, of course), utilizing relatively simple instrumentation and repetition to draw listeners into deeper awakening. It's totally pointless to look for chord changes, flowing lyrical melodies, or quite often even instruments in tune.
The trio on this record does keep its instruments in tune. In fact, you even get the pleasure of hearing Joe Morris twist the knobs a bit to keep everything right. This is very much a live performance, intimate and unfinished, though an audience is missing from the recording. The first tune, "Sand Choir," takes right off, launching into a thematic discourse which wanders freely and coherently through a series of cascading motifs.
Morris normally plays the electric guitar, so his banjo and banjouke work is a pleasant surprise. As is his norm, there's absolutely no shortage of notes: rippling atonal flurries with jagged angularity, usually tightly clustered and following a conscious stuttering rhythm. (It is particularly hard to play this way on the banjo, given it's typically tuned in fourths.)
William Parker takes the low, four-stringed Moroccan zintir into a riffing groove most of the time, underlining the trance aspect of the music and emphasizing the relationships between blues and African music. His playing is muscular, warm, and inviting. He works incredibly well with Hamid Drake, long a student of world drumming traditions, who plays frame drums here. Drake draws on the culture and spirit behind the instrument, utilizing its definitive hollow resonance and blocky attack to advantage. As is frequent with this drummer, there's a core rhythmic unit reinforced by color and accent around the beat, combining to flesh out a pulse. Unfortunately the drums are real low in the mix.
All that said, it's essential to focus on the bottom line. Don't get caught up in the details: this is trance music at its very roots. It has a wonderful ability to transport you through time and space. And that part is real simple.
Track Listing: Sand Choir; Dawn Son; Hop-Kin; Step Dance; Dream.
Personnel: William Parker: zintir; Joe Morris: banjo, banjouke; Hamid Drake: frame drum.