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William Parker & Hamid Drake - First Communion + Piercing the Veil

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Artist: William Parker & Hamid Drake

Album: First Communion + Piercing the Veil

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: May. 1, 2007

Back in April of 2000, respected artists William Parker and Hamid Drake were assembled by Steven Joerg of Aum Fidelity for their first collaborations, both live and in the studio. The studio recordings were originally released in June 2001, but here we have a double CD that includes the complete 88-minute live set (here titled "First Communion") as well as Piercing the Veil, the studio session, back in print with this edition.

"First Communion" is divided into three parts, further subdivided into separate CD tracks. The three parts are differentiated by the instrumentation used. The first sees both players on hand percussion: tabla, frame drum, slit drum, dumbek. The pair establish a fast-paced clip-clop of interlocking hits, not quite a groove but synchronized nonetheless. Throughout, usually one of them taps out a relatively steady series of hits while the other injects rolls and slaps, a very fine interplay of sound and motion.

For the second part, Drake continues with steady rolling drum hits on the frame drum as Parker shifts to shakuhachi. The woodwind would, in normal hands, take the playing into a more pastoral setting, but instead, after some time to set the feel, the intensity begins to grow, and continues until Parker begins to vocalize through the shakuhachi. At ten minutes in, he's screeching and shouting in fevered abandon as Drake accompanies him.

The third part is the longest, divided into three extended parts and totaling over fifty minutes. Drake, on drum kit, starts with a busy, freely clashing burst, then Parker's bass joins in with grunts, scrapes and moans. They move into a nice head-bobbing bass and drum pulse, and travel via a more traditional jazz approach, while taking time throughout to pull things apart like taffy and take us on detours elsewhere before returning. As part B starts, twenty minutes into the overall piece, things are bobbing like a cork in water, the bass pulling things along and Drake's drums maintaining the pace while moving sideways every few moments to fill here and tap there. It's all constant, restless movement, at times establishing a regular pattern only to let it disintegrate. Part C begins with Parker bowing the bass, buzzing and fiddling, and Drake maintains the abstract atmosphere with disconnected, nearly-ambient playing. Later, they kick into some high-speed rhythmic interplay, charged and impressively responsive to each other's changes. They finish the set with Drake putting down a superb, steady beat for Parker to wind through and around, until the stop to well-deserved applause.

Piercing the Veil is nine songs of moderate length, naturally more intrinsically "finished" than the extended flow of the live tracks. There's the bass-drum interplay of "Black Cherry," the hand-percussion jam "Heavenly Walk," the beautiful shakuhachi-drum textures of "Japeru," and "Nur Al Anwar," which immediately brings to mind the Jajouka style of horns and percussion. "Loom Song," a rollicking drums-bass number, and the tabla-hand drum piece "Chaung Tzu's Dream," are the longest pieces here, and coming one after the other act as the album's peak: ascending the first, then descending with the calmer, yet still-hectic "Dream," leading into the closing track, "Bodies Die" - another Jajouka-minded high-energy jam that finishes things with an electric spark of energy that puts a lie to the song's title.

This set is a lot to digest, but there's certainly no doubt that the act of listening is in no way a chore. We're lucky to have such things on which to spend our time. The music is inescapably imbued with Parker and Drake's spirits, lending it breadth; and their physicality, lending it weight. The sum total is immense in every way.

By Mason Jones

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