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Monday, July 10, 2017

Hamid Drake & Sylvain Kassap - Heads or Tails (Rogueart, 2016 ) *****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Why exactly write a review? I believe there is more than one answer to this question. If I had to prioritize, I’d say that my main objective would be to deliver to you my truth. My feelings about something, my impressions, what kind of meditation (to remember Coltrane’s masterpiece) is transcended through the medium of music. Why review this album or write some thoughts about this album? The answer must be a positive one: all the above and so much more, however difficult to describe and put to a piece of paper. All these are the reasons I’m writing these lines right now. To review a recording and share with you my enthusiasm about it. In any other case it wouldn’t be worth the effort.

I've been following Hamid Drake’s career for some years now, his name on an album reassures me about the quality and will to present something new and truthful. His playing, seeped in the tradition of polyrhythmic African drumming, has a spiritual nature of dual powers. It relaxes me and at the same time has the energy - not transcribed in audio volume though - of a full blown attack. I cannot say that clarinetist Sylvain Kassap was familiar to me. His playing on Heads or Tails, the timbre of his clarinet, forced me, in a way, to look both ways: to the west at the tradition of free improvisation and the east, where the reminisces of Greek traditional musics kept coming in my mind.

Heads or Tails is free improvisation at it’s best. The interplay between the two musicians is fantastic. From beginning to end they draw deep feelings and sounds from each other. Drake is like a chameleon, changing his playing each time he works with different musicians. This here is one of these times and it’s unique again. The first CD has much longer tracks than the second. It is rich and adventurous and, as always in free improvisation, reveals a special moment in time and place that deserves to be captured on tape. It also reveals two musicians that believe their art is not a commodity and that it is worth listening.

On the second CD you will listen to much shorter tracks, snippet-like, and full of energy. Small urgent messages in a bottle with short melodic lines that intervene with even shorter playful explorative improvisations. On this CD Drake’s frame drum is at ease with the variety of Kassap’s clarinet. They seem to avoid solo parts in favour of a continuous duo improvisation. It is a well balanced act between spontaneity and melody – a feature in many of Drake’s recordings I must say. Sylvain Kassap stands up to Drake’s challenge, presenting each time a new form of melodic spontaneity. He adjusts with him incredibly well. This is an equal partnership, a collision of two great artists with no need of outbursts or freak-outs but a constant flow of duo sounds. Buy this album.