Hamid Drake, Punkt + ICP
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.
Drake is at home at many sections, styles of music through his distinctive voice. Numerous varied collaborations with musicians and groups in/from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean bear witness of that. Reggae apparently is a special passion and connecting force for him. He is working in those contexts so intensely that people often know his work only partially due to their own preferences and focus. Nowadays there are few musicians who spiritually, creatively and practically span such a variety and range with their distinctive voice (for an introductory cross sectional radio feature (on demand) see HAMID DRAKE part 1 ...
and see HAMID DRAKE part 2 ...
Considering this and Drake's urge to move forward (or inward) to broaden the musical scope by creative invention, his PUNKT participation came into being quite naturally three years ago. It started at a PUNKT Paris event and continued at PUNKT events in Italy (Milano), and Norway (Kristiansand)(see more HERE ...
). Drake participated in and contributed to the input side as well as on the live remix side of it. In Paris he performed in a trio with Ethiopian vocalist Etenesh Wassié and French guitarist Mathieu Sourisseau and did a live remix with saxophonist Evan Parker
, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer
, guitarist Eivind Aarset and the electronics/sampling of Jan Bang and Erik Honoré -a multifaceted crew. The presence of Evan Parker here is not that astonishing either. Parker was one of the first improvisers working with live electronics with The Music Improvising Company (Derek Bailey
, Hugh Davis, Jamie Muir, Christine Jeffrey) in the late 60s. Their first recording was released as 4th album of the ECM-label's catalogue. More electronic albums by Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble followed. Live remix as a connecting and unifying procedure
Drake's carte blanche had a forceful focus on the live-remix as a connecting and unifying procedure, which was still more enforced by the fact that it was a premiere in Amsterdam and the first time a PUNKT remix took place in The Netherlands. At the beginning of the concerts Drake recalled Don Cherry who made his first record with electronics almost 50 years ago. In 1969 he recorded the Human Music
album as a duo with electronics pioneer Jon Appleton, for Bob Thiele's Dutchman label. It happened just two years after the release of Morton Subnotik's groundbreaking album Silver Apples From The Moon
During the carte blanche program two methods (or procedures) of improvising were 'combined': the ICP and PUNKT method. Both parties share 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 on/to the contributions of their fellow musicians; PUNKT musicians together act on a preceding performance as a whole in their subsequent live-remix improvisation with the aid of electronic and acoustic instruments.
A live remix differs from a studio remix in a couple of respects. In the studio there's more time and the possibility to retry. In the studio it is possible to listen to the input-piece of the mix again and again. The same goes up for manipulations. There might be collaboration between more people, but very often one person/author is responsible for the remix. In a live remix this reshaping has to be a joint effort, a real-time processing collaboration between a number of musicians using electronic devices, acoustic instruments and voice(s). The input of the live remix is an immediately preceding performance by a group of other musicians. The remix crew listens to/watches the performance and take decisions on what to do, how to proceed, what to use, etc.. These decisions can be taken in advance and/or during the improvisation itself. Live remixes are very often aided by electronic devicesjoined by traditional (acoustic) instruments/voices. It is not necessary, however, to base a live remix on electronics. It would be possible too to do it purely with acoustic instruments and solely based on the musicians memory. It happened a few years ago at the PUNKT FESTIVAL in a live remix by Norwegian-French group Dans Les Arbres (Christian Wallumrod
, Ivar Grydeland
, Xavier Charles
, and Ingar Zach
). This does, however, require special skills in terms of memory, accessing speed, and listening skills of the musicians. With the aid of electronic sound sampling equipment and manipulation processes the outcomes are more liquid, layered and porous, opening up a lot of new possibilities. Although it wouldn't be a surprise if the electronic treatment would have an impact on purely acoustic improvisation in the long run.
The concept of live remixes not only allows for endless variation (of different order); it is in a way an exteriorization of the musical listening process. We hear what we want to hear or what we are used to hearing. But there will always be more or less unknown elements and characteristics that challenge the listener to assimilate or to accommodate to, to evade or to transform. In a live remix you can hear what the remixing musicians hear or want to hear. The result is a merging of known and unknown things. Certain forms of music making might or want to challenge the listening process. In the live remix it is made more made more translucent and tangible and gets its own epic form. Opening and Input-Performance
As mentioned before, Hamid Drake's Carte Blanche night consisted of three parts: a duo opening with young Italian vibraphonist Pasquale Mirra, a contribution by the five musicians of the Amsterdam impro-scene, and a live remix by a PUNKT-crew including Hamid Drake himself together with Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, and Eivind Aarset.
Hamid Drake and vibraphonist Pasquale Mirra have been working as a duo since 2008 and form a proven unit. They took off at a highly energetic pace right from the start. From their first beat and sound their music had a strong African vibe and flavor. Mirra, an agile musician with a very unique style, wonderfully extended Drake's circulating beats with his wonderfully tinkling and chiming metallophonic sounds.
Gradually their music turned into the melodism of a longer chant, "Born upon a Lotus." Drake commenced to sing after switching to the big frame drum. Mirra enhanced the chant's unfolding beauty by applying endearing and subtle varieties of the percussive possibilities of his instrument. It included spontaneous preparationswith aluminum foil amongst others -and extended techniques. Following the music's own way a moving document of deep personal expression arose from the two musicians' weaving.
On cue the Amsterdam crew entered the stage and joined Drake and Mirra by overwriting the chant and leading the music into a different direction. After a short interplay of Kaja Draksler and Mirra, Mirra and Drake faded out and left the stage to the Amsterdam musicians. The ICP-horns intoned a kind of funeral march with some great doubling of Wierbos' trombone and Glerum's double bass. The music conjured up some sort of black magic, a sortilege kind of atmosphere on the edge of funny and sinister. Baars and Moore then freaked out on their clarinets into an armada of (Steve) Lacyan duck calls, among others. It evoked multiple vivacious, jagged frictions and deformations and offered a rich variety to vamp from where the music slipped into some crazy polka jive. It finally again transmuted into a crooked crutch waltz accompanied and echoed by a sample of stride piano of Kaja Draksler. She fitted in, acting quite consistently without trying to excel or provoke. The performance satisfied quite well a definition ICP drummer Han Bennink
once gave of improvisation: the art of quickly crossing a busy street thereby entraining and carrying along as much stuff as possible.
Thus the ICP-unit with its strong musical individuals that have known each other for decades did its clear ICP thing, showcased a sample of ICP music pur sang, satisfying expectations. It felt as a rock thrown into a dusty field. This constituted the input for the highly anticipated live remix taking place at the rear part of the stage with its wide- open views of the center of Amsterdam. Live Remix Amsterdam
Where the musician in the first two parts formed a longer or shorter diagonal on stage, the musicians formed half a circle open to the audience during the live-remix: two 'machine men' at the center flanked by drummer Hamid Drake on the left side and guitarist Eivind Aarset on the other.
For the live remix the dramaturgy of its progression is of major importance. It is its dynamics that counts, the way parts of the original performance re-appear do not appear. The music of the live remix appeared to be a floating multilayered soundscape with deep valleys, remote sounds, crackling and buzzing noises and a clearly perceptible pulse. It could be perceived as an outer space area, a dream landscape or an inner memory space (in the sense of James Joyce or Marcel Proust)
The audience immediately noticed that a completely new sound reality was manifesting itself, a sound reality of a different level with lots of possibilities to manipulate and incorporate elements and moments of the past performance. Some perceived it as a piece of music in its own right, others were more keen on discerning elements from the preceding input-performance and relating both to each other. Some experienced barriers due to preferences, discomfort or even the rejection of the use of electronics.
Music that is experienced can be reproduced by the human memory through certain structural features and the talent and skills of the musicians involved, as well as features of the performance situation. This has thoroughly changed with the possibility of recording, sampling and other electronic forms of manipulation, and the sound quality in particular. This even influences musicians who do not (directly) use electronics in their performance.
Live remixing indeed has been developed from recording and the use of (studio) electronics, and especially the approach and esthetics of Punkt founders Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, although it is not necessarily confined to this particular use of electronics. There have been live remixes with mainly acoustic instruments and voice(s). One should experience several live remixes to get a good idea of the significance, scope and possibilities of this concept.
The step from remixing in the studio to real-time live remixing on stage is a huge and bold one. As mentioned before, a live remix clearly differs from what people might know from studio remixes of known recordings. These very often are collages, superimposing along a clear idea of usually one single author, fabricated and accomplished in a longer period including retrials and revisions. In a live remix the same technical/electronic aids are available but have to be applied rapidly in real time in interaction with other electronic or acoustic musicians. What is needed therefore is a division of tasks combined with clear notions of space, sound, ether and narrative.
As said before the live remix did not reproduce the experienced performance, the 'original' work. Neither did it rework and reshape it in an ICP way of improvising. Instead, the remix crew created a 'wider' reflective-narrative space filled with echoes of the previously experienced performance (as a whole), traces of their own subjective listening and transformations of it within its very own momentum.
The ICP crew worked through extensions yielded by crumpling, creasing and crushing sounds, making use of the dynamics emerging from it in terms of flow, rhythm, new sound connections and cohesions. The remix crew in a way realized the opposite. The remix crew widened and deepened the field of operation and its space. Their beautiful, strange sounds did not so much result from crashes and crushes, but from the manipulation and combination (of elements) on micro(tonal) level. One could also describe it as a deconstructive modus operandi vs. a suggestive sub- melodic modus operandi.
These contrasts and opposites were clearly manifested through the two performances. It would have been a real deal if a direct confrontation of both worlds of improvisation could have been experienced in a third step meeting, a meeting including musicians from both camps in both crews. However, this night had a more limited scope centered on Hamid Drake as a musician working in multiple approaches and worlds.
The Punkt musicians perfectly managed to build up beautiful lines from fragments and micro-elements. From an almost motionless and serene tranquility they ignited violently raging sound storms with powerful outbursts, time and again and always right in time. Traces of the preceding performance of the duo and the ICP quintet were buried deep in the mix, now and then floating to the (sub)surface. It was a long while waiting for the clarinets and duck calls, but in the end, right before giving up, it was there, clearly discernible yet coming from an unknown place, some deeper area. A special treat were the 'never ending's end' and coda -very serious yet full of humor.
The most striking characteristic of the live remix was the 'natural' musical unity of the electric/electronic musicians with the acoustic drumming of Hamid Drake. The crew generously supported his drumming, which was quite effective and beautifully uplifting. Hamid Drake gave them a lot to build upon and fly. This revealed a lot about their mutual sensibilities and orientations.
Jan Bang may be considered the most percussive live electronics musician around and visually this was certainly more than evident during the remixing. He was in fact another percussionist part of the crew. Bang is a seducer in the finest sense: he is inviting, has amazing ears, a superb overview and he radiates trust. Erik Honoré had the grounding role and servedsuper-concentrated and with a latent grin -the deeper and darker tonalities, allowing the others to vibrate. Eivind Aarsetthe crew's alchemistis a rhythmically highly sensitive colorist. He is able to shoot out at the right moment when the music engorges and huge waves arise. He did more discrete work this time, work you would notice when hearing the music without. Hamid Drake first and finally was the emanative and equilibrating persona securing cyclical forward motion, space, acceptance and clearness of inner light. In the end he stepped forward to express his graciousness for making it all possible through an ensemble of creative, spiritual, interpersonal, and organizational movements during and towards the night and the preparation of it. Conclusion
In general it may be stated that the audience was quite curious, open, accepting and immediately caught by the music of the Punkt remix crew with Hamid Drake. A considerable part of the crowd seemed to be really fascinated. They highly appreciated the unknown even when its execution remained a closed book for many in the audience. This, however, is quite a characteristic experience when living a PUNKT live remix for the first time. It fascinates and puzzles at the same time.
The stark contrast between the two approaches and crews was clearly felt, yet the approaches were mediated convincingly by Hamid Drake as the central figure of the program. It was a precious thing to experience how each crew arrived at and yielded its very own strange beautiful sounds (to use an expression of John Lurie).
The program notes mention that "Hamid Drake challenges the musicians to (...) inventively re-orientate and rewrite their routines" and that he "leads the acoustic/analog-oriented musicians towards ambient electronica and vice versa." It is obvious that it needs still more to accomplish that. PUNKT entails that the remixed musician takes his/her seat also on the live remix side -like many musicians, improvisers such as Anders Jormin
, Adam Rudolph and Evan Parker, composers such as Rolf Wallin and Dai Fujikura and pop musicians such as Guy Sigsworth have done in the past 11 years. PUNKT is not only a musical concept, but also a concept of genre crossing and genre- spanning, multidisciplinary cooperation. The way into more live remixes in Amsterdam and elsewhere lies open.
A special account of the event will be published soon at INNER TOUR
of fine artist Rita Draper Frazão
Next up in Bimhuis' Carte Blanche Series is pianist Alexander Hawkins
from the UK, to perform on February, 27th .
Hamid Drake Carte Blanche is available as on demand streaming on BIMHUIS RADIO