Sunday, February 05, 2006

Black History Month: Armageddon

For those in the know, Armageddon was recorded on February 20, 1995 at Prince Studios in New York City.

Black History Month at HurdAudio continues with ears tuned in to poet, free jazz drummer and creative soul William Hooker. Armageddon is a documentation of 6 collaborations and one solo work of free improvisation with the drums mixed well forward. This music is intense, raw, energetic, challenging and played with a great deal of focus in the moment of its creation.

"Time (within)" kicks off this collection with a duet between Hooker on the drums and D.J. Olive working the turntables. With waves of drums washing over the top Olive fills the sonic texture with something akin to whale cries.

"Spirit World" presents a quartet with Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Blaise Siwula on sax, Kickwad on guitar and Hooker driving the kinetic force on the drum kit. Siwula runs a solid wall of sax across the right speaker as Kickwad counterbalances with some elastic playing on the left channel. This is the aggressive energy that I associate with New York free jazz. About half way through the sax gives way to Barnes' trumpet work as he works a frenetic crescendo into the mix. Everything drops out briefly, before a quick coda at the end with all players making their final statement.

"Magus" is a quick drum solo from Hooker that works a pulse to hypnotic effect before moving toward some rumbling kick and brush work for a spell. This one sounds like the microphones were in extremely close to the kit (and kick drum) for this recording.

"Purge" features Richard Keene on sax and Doug Walker on synthesizer as Hooker pulls the intensity back to match the pulsating analog sounds that percolate through this work - always mixed just behind the drums. Keene carves just a few, well selected notes (that he seems to flatten as needed). This particular track takes a satisfying direction as these players react and respond as the intensity level increases over the course of this 10 minute work. Keene eventually strings together long lines of notes that emulate the synth material

"Spirits of Fire" is a drum solo with a recording of Manley Hall speaking. This one has the feel of an academic lecture delivered with an obscuring wash of drum accompaniment. At under 2 minutes this one comes across as episodic and too brief.

"Ghost Dance" is a duet between Hooker and David First on guitar. Here, First seems locked into Hooker's drumming as he manages to keep up with a matching, rumbling electric guitar sound that carves a niche just above the drums in the frequency spectrum. The human cry, possibly from First, near the end is a nice touch. This one has a nice sonic shading to it.

"State Secrets" is a trio with Letha Rodman and Jesse Henry playing guitar over Hooker's thunderstorm on the kit that serves as the epic conclusion to Armageddon. This one is pure, kinetic, adrenaline-laced improvisation. It's a wall of sonic sheets anchored by large slabs from the drums. The wall occasionally breaks down, leaving gaping holes for the guitars to cut through with varying levels of barely controlled electric noise in the signal.

The mix on Armageddon is representative of how this material must sound from behind the drum kit. And at times I really wish there was a better balance between the instruments. But ultimately, this presents an odd angle that keeps a strong focus on the energetic quality of this music. And for free improvisation the way William Hooker attacks it that can be an exhilarating perspective.

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