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William Parker & Hamid Drake - Summer Snow

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Artist: William Parker & Hamid Drake

Album: Summer Snow

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: Jun. 4, 2007

The duo of Hamid Drake and William Parker is such a seemingly natural and fruitful collaboration that it's hard to believe that the pair's first duet performance occurred as recently as 2000. Though Drake and Parker had performed together before in larger groups, before Steven Joerg invited them to record for his Aum Fidelity label, the two men, rather inconceivably, hadn't yet played live or recorded in a duo format, though their paths had crossed as members of Peter Brotzmann's Die Like a Dog Ensemble. After that session, however, came the deluge; Drake and Parker have since appeared repeatedly on disc together, along with a broad cast of collaborators, and they've shared stages across the globe. Summer Snow recorded in 2006, and released this spring, constitutes only the second release by the two in duo format, following closely on the heels of a two-disc reissue of their 2001 debut, Piercing the Veil, with a live recording made just days before, First Communion. It seems almost preposterous that it's taken this long for another recording to appear, but for men so busy and with an album as good as this one, the delay is certainly forgivable.

Parker and Drake are best known for their work on the bass and drums, respectively, though, as is often the case, Summer Snow finds each musician wielding a collection of noise makers, with Drake sticking to percussion and Parker manning a more eclectic array. Like their live performances, the disc varies between rhythmic percussion workouts, drum & bass improvisations and wholly abstract sound pieces, and it's a testament to each man's versatility, and their cohesion as collaborators how smoothly Summer Snow segues between these modes of expression. What remains constant however, or at least nearly so, is a propensity for playing with rhythmic variations; whether in the playful strut of "Konte" or the more subdued (but no simpler) "Faces," Drake and Parker tend to riff, as it were, on and around a rhythmic theme, with melodic accouterments, most notably in the form of Parker's shakuhachi, often deferring to the music's more percussive voices, which rarely leave the foreground of a piece. Tracks like "Sky" and "Pahos" are the album's standouts, with their fusion of ethnic elements; their pair's amalgamations of African, Far Eastern, and Indian sounds and techniques make for music that mines more traditional components with respect and sincerity. And while the buoyancy of "Anaya Dancing," which features both men on their primary instruments, is a pleasure to take in, that these more conventional selections are occasional changes of pace is a boon to the overall tone of the disc.

Though they're certainly not new names to anyone moderately interested in contemporary free jazz and improv, listeners unfamiliar with Drake and Parker's work in a duo setting would do well to check out their as yet sparse discography, as it showcases sides of each musician that aren't always a focus of their work in larger ensembles. Summer Snow finds the duo, as always, contemplative, though not with a paucity of vigor; their work resonates with a pathos not bogged down with unguarded dramatics, instead, even the disc's most moving work is alive with a palpable energy, a positive vibe that speaks to the spirit that lies at the core of both Summer Snow, and the duo's work as a whole.

By Adam Strohm

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First Communion + Piercing the Veil

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