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The Omar Hakim Experience: We Are One

Jeff Winbush By

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To properly appreciate The Omar Hakim Experience one must look back to move forward. By the time Hakim slipped behind the drum kit of Weather Report in 1983, the band was staggering under the weight of personnel departures, management problems and family issues. Founding member Joe Zawinul went in search of new recruits and in walked Hakim with bassist Victor Bailey and percussionist Jose Rossy.

Curt Bianchi's well-researched blog, The Weather Report Annotated Discography, is the go-to site for all things related to the band and on it Hakim explained what he brought to the group besides his masterful drumming, "I'm the kind of person who, no matter what sort of gig it is, likes to go out there and have fun. And before I joined Weather Report I saw the band, and Joe looked so serious—he looked mean, you know—so when I joined I didn't know what to expect. Then when we started doing gigs people were saying to me, 'You know, Joe is smiling onstage, and he looks happy!' And I realized he has a really great sense of humor and he's a funny cat. But I guess because I was up on stage having such a great time, the vibe became contagious."

Hakim is again having a great time on We Are One, his first solo album in 14 years, as he does a deep-dive into his long and varied history as a supporting player for acts as diverse as Madonna, Dire Straits, Sting, David Bowie and Miles Davis to craft an album that doesn't neatly fit into a single category. Hakim isn't as much about meeting expectations as he is making music that comes across as honest and sincere without a trace of calculation or catering to trends.

A common complaint lodged against Hakim from fans is he hasn't featured his drums enough on his two prior solo records. That's a problem solved by the ferocious "Transmigration," which starts as a slow burn but quickly ignites into a fusion firestorm as Hakim and Chieli Minucci duel it out, with the Special EFX guitarist ripping off killer leads while the drummer impressively displays plenty of raw rock power.

Nor is predictability a trap into which Hakim ever falls. He's busy, he's precise, he's varied and trying to pin him down is like nailing Jello to the wall. "Carpe Diem" is a slice of pop perfection complete with the "la-la-las" of Hakim taking an abbreviated vocal turn. Minucci deftly switches between electric and acoustic guitars and harmonicist Gregoire Maret adds a happy feeling to the song's natural giddiness. Hakim's Trio of Oz band mate (and spouse) Rachel Z. drops by to add a synth solo to the two tracks and adds more synthesizers to the gorgeously lush "With Every Breath," where Minucci provides the melody as guitarist Jimi Tunnell steps in with a legato solo. Hakim is a multi-instrumentalist, multitalented Grammy Award-winning composer.

Just because he's the frontman Hakim doesn't mean We Are One is all about him. It's only mostly about the drummer, as the frenzied jam "Walk The Walk" rocks so hard it makes the listeners long for bigger speakers and fewer neighbors. The drums are pushed up in the mix, but though Hakim is front and center he plays well with others besides Minucci and Rachel Z, as keyboardist Scott Tibbs, bassist Jerry Brooks and saxophonist Bobby Francheschini make their presence felt and heard.

We Are One is a wide-ranging and wildly diverse project that captures Hakim in his element, both as an in-demand musician and as an artist ambitiously, aggressively and audaciously pursuing his own goals. This eminently impressive album deserves to be heard and enjoyed by anyone who considers themselves a fan, or who simply wants to hear something boldly fresh and stylishly original which rewards with every listen. It is time to get experienced.

Track Listing: Transmigration; Carpe Diem; With Every Breath; Remember to Remember; Walk the Walk; So There; Listen Up!; Molasses Run; Forever Friend; We Are One

Personnel: Omar Hakim: drums, acoustic drums, keyboards, electric piano, vocals, percussion, guitar, guitar melody, bass guitar, synth solo, synth bass; Scott Tibbs: piano, keyboards, (3, 4, 7, 9); Chieli Minucci: electric and acoustic guitar, rhythm guitar (1-9); Rachel Z: synth solo (1), additional synth (2), acoustic piano (8); Jerry Brooks: bass (1, 2, 4-8); Gregoire Maret: harmonica (2, 7, 9); Jim Tunnell: guitar solo (3); Bobby Fracheschini: tenor sax, alto flute (3, 5, 6, 8); Angel Rogers: background vocals (10)

Title: We Are One | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: OzMosis Records

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