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Hamid Drake Carte Blanche at Bimhuis Amsterdam: PUNKT+ICP

Henning Bolte By

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Hamid Drake, Punkt + ICP
Carte Blanche
January 23, 2016

World-renowned Amsterdam Bimhuis invited illustrious Chicagoan drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake for a carte blanche night on January 23rd. This article covers the event and adds some background notes. Hamid Drake frequently performs at this venue. To date he played Bimhuis 18 times in its 40 years of existence. When we consider this as well as his enormous musical range a festival would be necessary to represent him and his work. It would be no doubt a challenging transcending festival spanning several days. For a single carte blanche night however tough choices had to be made from many attractive options.

Surprising and obvious choices

Drake could have worked with some nice musical contrasts or complementarities, yet his main concern was to take a step forward. His definite choice was as surprising as obvious. He decided to conduct an unlikely encounter between members of good old Amsterdam ICP Orchestra, two young upcoming musicians, Italian vibraphonist Pasquale Mirra and Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, and the live remix crew of trailblazing Norwegian PUNKT with its far-reaching metamorphosis of music. The ICP-crew comprised Wolter Wierbos on trombone, Ab Baars and Michael Moore on saxophone and clarinet, Ernst Glerum on double bass and Kaja Draksler on piano. The PUNKT-crew brought Jan Bang and Erik Honore electronics, guitarist Eivind Aarset and Hamid Drake on drums/percussion. The introductory performance of the night was given by the duo of Hamid Drake and Italian vibraphonist Pasquale Mirra, representing Drake's work with other percussionists like Adam Rudolph and Michael Zerang.

What these parties share is the principle of instant composing: the open form, the improvisational attitude of creating music in real time. The difference lies in their modus operandi and the variety of instruments used. The ICP musicians (re)act instantly to/on the contributions of their fellow musicians; The PUNKT musicians together act on a preceding performance as a whole in their subsequent improvised live remix with electronic and acoustic instruments. Hamid Drake brought it together and challenged these musicians to inventively re-orientate and rewrite their routines. He, at the center, was free and bound to lead acoustic-/analog-oriented musicians towards ambient electronics, vice versa.

Range and unity

Hamid Drake is one of the most illustrious, distinct and open-minded percussionists of this moment. Deeply rooted in the Afro-American tradition he covers a broad musical range in his collaborations. As a firmly grounded independent spirit he crossed the field of improvisation in jazz and world music in ever challenged and challenging ways. It is not, however, merely an ability to navigate into, through and out of differing musical fields. Drake is a highly precise and primarily spatial drummer with a great way of handling space, volume, repetition, and periodicity. This is intimately connected with his general appearance, his stature, and presence during his actions: with a majestic glow and elegant smile he channels cosmic energies into sound waves and eruptions.

Listening to and watching Drake's play in differing contexts, works as an ear-opener. He is one of the drummers that enable listeners not only to hear the differences but also very clearly the common ground on a deeper level. In Free Improvisation Drake creates a rhythmical circulation that enables horn players to embrace, slip in and act out. The sounds of Peter Brötzmann, for example, get an extra strong and deep charge in Drake's company. Conversely in other, straighter contexts Drake evokes a deeper rawness and edge.

The unity of the diverse musical sources Drake went through and makes use of is represented best in his plentiful work with great Chicagoan reedman Fred Anderson (1929-2010). As Drake stated early in the evening, Baba Anderson was a life long stimulator, guide and companion. You can experience this on their wonderful last album From The River To The Ocean (2007, Thrill Jockey) that bears witness of it. Other important formative influences were trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell he both met as a young musician when he started to work in Foday Muso Suso's Mandingo Griot Society together with his peer, percussionist Adam Rudolph, by the late '70s. The first album of the Mandingo Griot Society (with guesting Don Cherry) anticipated on the legendary CODONA-series of the early '80s with percussionists Collin Walcott, Nana Vasconcelos and Don Cherry as forerunners of present world music and world jazz.


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