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William Hooker: Light

John Sharpe By

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Light constitutes another welcome instalment from the back pages of NYC free jazz by the Lithuanian No Business imprint, following on from Jemeel Moondoc's Muntu Recordings (2009), Commitment's Complete Recordings 1980/1983 (2010) and William Parker's Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987 (2012) box set, among others. The label has released some of drummer William Hooker's most accomplished work in recent years, such as Bliss -Earth's Orbit (2010) and Live At Vilnius Jazz Festival (2014) as well as previous documents from the archives. Now they have raided the vaults to put out a 4 CD box set which unites Hooker's first two self released discs with two never before heard live sessions.

Writer Thomas Stanley puts his finger on what makes Hooker special in the accompanying booklet when highlighting that he plays drums as a lead instrument, rather than being content to be part of the rhythm section. That uncompromising stance has meant that he has often skirted the fringes rather than luxuriated at the core, even in the already rarefied free jazz arena. In the heyday of the loft era Hooker was told he couldn't work the prestigious Studio Rivbea as leader as he hadn't put in time as a sideman. Consequently he worked where he could, frequently with others on the edge. among that number were some at the start of their careers who later scaled the heights, such as David Murray and David S. Ware here.

The first CD comprises a welcome resighting for Hooker's 1975 double LP debut ...is eternal life, a. With no little chutzpah, he sets out his manifesto with a side of solo drums to. Merging his lilting voice with small percussion and earthy chant like drum patterns, the result is organised and controlled. It's already clear that Hooker possesses a finely honed sense of dynamics and form. So a passage of shimmering cymbals precedes a sequence of rumbling toms. Then when the two are combined it produces a choral effect which only increases the impact. It's an approach that has served him well since.

"Soy: Material / Seven" represents the first appearance on disc of 21-year old Murray. Already his facility in the upper registers is apparent. After a conversational start, with blues inflections, there's a synergy evident between drums and saxophone, although Mark Miller's bass seems incidental, and tellingly it's the last time the instrument appears on this compendium. On "Passages (Anthill)," David S. Ware shows that he shares Murray's prodigious imagination along with stamina and relentless power. Ware and Hooker goad each other into an incendiary dialogue in which melodic material from the head serves to reignite Ware's incantatory outpouring.

Sound quality becomes more of a problem on the second CD. The first two tracks comprise the final side of Hooker's debut. "Pieces I & II," a trio with the flutes and saxophones of Les Goodson and Hasaan Dawkins, suffers greatly because of the distortion on the drums. The solo "Above and Beyond" is better and again displays Hooker's sense of organization, alternating avalanche and silence.

The next three cuts make up Hooker's second LP Brighter Lights first issued in 1982. "Others (Unknowing)" and "Patterns I, II and III" showcase Alan Braufman's pastoral flute and oboe-like alto saxophone, restrained initially with dancing flute but building to multiphonics saxophone bursts by the end. "3 & 6 / Right" matches Hooker with pianist Mark Hennen's Cecil Taylor inspired flow. Unfortunately the imaginative interplay is marred by more distortion which mean that it's not possible to fully appreciate the drummer's attention to pitch and texture. Slightly muffled and distant sound also affects "Present Happiness," an otherwise fine meeting with Jemeel Moondoc's alto and Hasaan Dawkins tenor saxophone, who respond eagerly to Hooker's exhortations. Thereafter there were no releases from Hooker until the close of the decade.

It all comes together on the third CD where Hooker pairs his structured solo method with a group of top notch collaborators. The February 1988 concert was captured five days before that issued as The Colour Circle (Cadence Jazz Records, 1989) with the same participants in trumpeter Roy Campbell and tenor saxophonist Booker T. Williams, Jr., and seems to feature extended renditions of some of the same charts, although the titles differ. Not for nothing was the original disc credited to the William Hooker Orchestra. Even though only three strong, Hooker arranges his resources, whether that be the three instrumentalists or the different parts of his kit, with such acumen that they deliver a truly orchestral experience.

Hooker pits mournful themes against blistering extemporization on two suite like tracks with "Anchoring / Inclusion / 3 & 6 (Right)" over 24 minutes and "Clear, Cold Light / Into Our Midst / Japanese Folk Song" clocking in at 42 minutes. Campbell blends lyricism and energy into a fluid whole, calling on melodic ideas which surfaced later in some of his own leadership dates. Williams, something of an undersung talent, works from reiterated phrases which mesh well with the drummer's style. Among the many excellent moments, the interlude for Hooker's hi-hat and Williams' rampaging tenor around the 10-minute mark on the latter stands out.

The final disc presents another previously unreleased live session from a year later, featuring similar instrumentation. This time Lewis Flip Barnes, who has gone on to become a stalwart of William Parker's bands, holds down the trumpet chair, while Richard Keene, also active with Parker in his Little Huey Orchestra, deploys a range of reeds in freewheeling interchange. Their fast paced give and take and empathetic phrasing echoes Hooker's roiling bombast on "Contrast (With A Feeling)" which sounds more like a blowing date than "Naturally Forward" where the leader's architectural underpinning lends order to Keene's aching falsetto and Barnes' fizzing fanfares. Rounding out the disc and bringing the collection full circle, "Continuity of Unfoldment" is another solo recital, which includes one of the few grooves in the set. It also contains a recitation by Hooker, presaging an increasing interest in expanding his breadth of expression via poetry and film.

Overall it's a mixed bag not helped by the sonic fidelity at times, but one where the pluses definitely outweigh the misfires. And that makes it essential listening for those curious as to Hooker's origins and indeed the development of free jazz.

Track Listing: Drum Form (includes - Wings - Prophet Of Dogon - Still Water - Desert Plant - Tune); Soy: Material / Seven; Passages (Anthill); Pieces I & II; Above and Beyond; Others (Unknowing); Patterns I, II and III; 3 & 6 / Right; Present Happiness; Anchoring / Inclusion / 3 & 6 (Right); Clear, Cold Light / Into Our Midst / Japanese Folk Song; Contrast (With A Feeling); Naturally Forward; Continuity of Unfoldment.

Personnel: William Hooker: drums, percussion, vocal; David Murray: tenor saxophone (2); Mark Miller: bass (2); David S. Ware: tenor saxophone (3); Les Goodson: tenor saxophone, flute, percussion (4); Hasaan Dawkins: alto saxophone, flute, percussion (4, 9); Alan Braufman: alto saxophone, flute(6, 7); Mark Hennen: piano (8); Jemeel Moondoc: alto saxophone (9); Roy Campbell: trumpet (10, 11); Booker T Williams: tenor saxophone (10, 11); Lewis Barnes: trumpet (12, 13); Richard Keene: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, flute (12, 13).

Title: Light | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: NoBusiness Records

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