For the first two minutes of atmospheric discourse between the twin trombones of Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert, and the human beatbox that is Napoléon Maddox, you would be forgiven for thinking that Hamid Drake's Reggaeology was an ironically titled free improv set. But that impression doesn't last. Infectious riddims kick in, based on Bob Marley's "One Drop," and from that point on it's a joyous ride.
As the third disc from the drummer's leadership vehicle, Bindu, Reggaeology continues the template set by its predecessors only inasmuch as it is completely different to what went before. Their eponymous debut featured four saxophones, stoked by the leader's drums, while Blissful (RogueArt 2008) was predicated upon spontaneously generated string and percussion grooves, and devotional declamations. This time out, while the recitationsby either Maddox or Drakeremain, they are slung from reggae beats with a two-'bone horn section. Also gathered under the Bindu umbrella are fellow Windy City fixtures Jeff Parker on guitar and Josh Abrams on bass and guimbri.
To oversimplify, the 68-minute program alternates overtly reggae-based pieces with other world-based rhythm outings, all spiced with pockets of improvised colloquy and timbral exploration. Given Drake's extensive reggae back story, it's no surprise that the riddims carry conviction. Both trombonists stretch the horn section vernacular with expressive soloing and relaxed conversation, without the need to draw on avant technique to make their mark. Parker nails the off-beats, but still gets to step out, with guitar hero calisthenics, on the standout opener, "Kali's Children No Cry." Elsewhere he's more restrained, while Abrams gets right down to the roots. Maddox is the wildcard, whether plying a litany of shushes, clicks and pops, crooning sweetly, or intoning spiritual texts.
"Togetherness" spotlights Maddox simulating scratching and dub technology, a trick cleverly echoed by the syncopated trombones, while Drake's bass and drum "Take Us Home" benefits from the real thing. Reprised from the band's debut, "Meeting and Parting" is given a choppy, reggae makeover, features amiably duetting trombones. A half-spoken Maddox lyricwhich, like a few of the vocals, holds up less well over repeated listens than the accompanimentis one of the few misfires on this successful genre-busting mash-up.
Kali's Children No Cry; Hymn of Solidarity; Kali Dub; The Taste of Radha's Love; Togetherness; Meeting and Parting; Take Us Home.
Hamid Drake: drums, frame drum, tabla, voice; Napoléon Maddox: voice, beatbox; Jeff Parker: guitar; Jeff Albert: trombone, Hammond organ; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Josh Abrams: double bass, guimbri.