Vision Festival XI, Angel Orensanz Foundation For The Arts, NYC - Day Four, 16 June 2006

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Donald Byrd Spectrum Dance Theater

No, not that Donald Byrd. This Donald Byrd is currently artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater in Seattle, WA, not that he was in evidence this evening. The performance featured two dancers: Danielle Wilkins and Julia Wilkins accompanied by percussion shaman Hamid Drake. Drake seated at a reduced kit, started on brushes, laying out a rich rhythmic tapestry. The first dancer approached the stage from the rear of the hall gyrating in time to Drake's free flowing rhythms as the spirit took her, which meant very fast. There were no concessions from Drake and this turned into a high energy workout for the dancers. Drake shifted into repeating patterns on his hihat and its stand, as the second dancer joined in rapid juddering movements, following Drake's polyrhythmic lead. As she gave it her all, her colleague recuperating at the rear of the stage, shouted encouragement, until she left the stage still dancing to disappear down the hall. A short reprise by the first performer and then she also departed. Short and sweet, but just a taster for the main course.
Hamid Drake and Bindu

While not the first time Drake has led a band, this was the debut performance of Bindu, bringing to fiery life the somewhat understated beauty of their intriguing 2005 RogueArt CD. In addition to Drake on drums and tablas, Bindu featured a mouth-watering selection of free jazz horn talent, combining NYC stalwarts Sabir Mateen and Daniel Carter with Chicago habitués Ernest Dawkins and Greg Ward. So, was it going to be a scaling up of Drake's freeform duos with various saxmen (Brotzmann, Tsahar, Mateen) or the WSQ with drums? Well neither really, or rather bits of both, in that that stellar solos were leavened by a loosely phrased horn chorus and energetic and intense supporting interplay. They played a knockout hour long set based around lengthy renditions of two pieces from the CD: "Bindu #1 and "Meeting and Parting , and one shorter improvised piece. Drake was situated stage right with the four hornmen strung across the stage level with him.

What was fascinating was seeing how the four horns generated variety and the strategies they adopted to avoid the default blowout option. In "Bindu #1 , Ward was faced with the unenviable task of following three barnstorming solos, each raising the ante for the next. By way of contrast he elected to resolutely reside in the middle registers of his thickly toned alto sax, building from phrase to phrase, in a manner akin to the late Jimmy Lyons, while Drake whipped up a storm in support. Ward only briefly hit the higher registers towards the close with a subdued squeal, repeated as the other horns slipped in languidly behind, before gradually winding down to leave Drake in the spotlight for a powerful solo.

In the same piece Mateen demonstrated why he has become MVP on the free jazz scene, with yet another soaring and masterfully fluent, crafted solo. Drake provided a launch pad for Mateen's tenor, maintaining a double bass drum beat motif, while mixing up the rhythms over the top. The reedman obliged with altissimo hollers replete with overtones, before building again from the lower registers via hoarse honks, and dog bothering squeals. Carter encouraged him with tenor screams of his own, and then vocal ululations, causing Mateen to glance sideways while continuing to blow. As he redoubled his efforts and spiralled into the furthest reaches once more, Carter crouched to dig out some subterranean tenor honks in support before Mateen wound down.

"Meeting and Parting , with its beautiful bittersweet melody atop a dancing tabla rhythm, gave Carter the opportunity to take a different tack. Eschewing reeds for trumpet, he judged his contribution on the needs of the music, to provide a neat contrast to the other horns. The cool bluesy understatedness of his abstract lines was punctuated by resonant hoots summoned forth by placing the bell of his horn over the mic.

Dawkins, attired in flowing white robes, was an integral part of the band, whether supporting Drake with a variety of percussive devices, providing impromptu backing for the soloists, on alto, tenor and wooden flute, or constructing his own great solo edifices. He served notice of his intent on the first piece, building from choppy short phrases into a torrent of vocalised cries, worrying notes and phrases, and stomping one foot to ease out multiphonic shrieks at the climax.


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