William Hooker - Light. The Early Years 1975-1989

4 CD Box Set

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Limited Edition

William Hooker and David S. Ware, David Murray, Jemeel Moondoc, Roy Campbell Jr., Booker T. Williams, Alan Braufman, Hasaan Dawkins, Mark Hennen, Lewis Barnes, Richard Keene, Les Goodson, Mark Miller

 

“Avant garde got soul too” - so opined drummer Charles Moffett with some amount of amusement through a composition title on album for Savoy in 1969. The controversial observation was likely shared if unstated by William Hooker, a generation younger and just getting his start in so-called fire music after an apprenticeship in soul jazz. Light directs an edifying and expansive beam on these efforts, bringing into focus a cache of recordings that trace the drummer’s development from journeyman to self-styled Griot. Adding up to well over four hours of music, the bulk of it is previously unreleased.

Now comes the cumbrous point in this piece for the profession of personal biases. This writer has never been much of a Hooker fan. Despite familiarity with a comparatively strong showing in the company of violinist Billy Bang on the Silkheart album Joy (Within)!, the urge to explore his catalog further proved elusive. This set’s accompanying booklet contains interview snippets with Hooker that helpfully elucidates some of the whys and wherefores. He names drummer Joe Dukes as a principal influence in the text. Organist Jack McDuff’s regular drummer and a staple presence on soul jazz dates for the Prestige label in the 1960s, Dukes had a style steeped in commercial appeal with strong, frills-friendly accents and a sturdy (some might argue obvious) sense of time and rhythm.

Hooker took those populist rudiments, amplified them and discarded the pinions of strict time, often aiming instead for elemental catharsis through volume, kinetic action and force. There’s a vertical aggression to his playing, like a geyser erupting that stresses power and feeling over conventional prowess. Again, referencing the set’s notes, Hooker describes a sojourn spent in the Bay Area where he was forced by virtue of the inexperience of his playing partners to shelve much of his previous skills set. The process was at first frustrating, but then liberating as he was able to redirect energies into potentially purer forms of expression beyond those circumscribed by formal technique.

The fourteen selections in the box encompass both the perils and premiums of embracing such an elemental approach to music-making. The first two discs contain material from Hooker’s self-produced debut double-album, … is eternal life, opening with “Drum Form”, an eighteen-minute solo percussion suite performed at Columbia University in the spring of 1975 that largely represents the former through a ritualistic, diffusive examination of his kit’s components accompanied by sporadic spoken word. A radio air shot from the same college campus six years later traces a tighter, more disciplined trajectory. Hooker moves from pugilistic brushes into a coloristic exploration of sticks and mallets-struck surfaces with accompanying, politically-charged poetry at the close.  

More consistently engaging is “Passages”, a nearly twenty-minute free form face-off with tenorist David S. Ware recorded at the Langston Hughes Library, NYC in February of 1976. Hooker goes at his kit full steam for the duration, approximating all the velocity and violence of orbital reentry as Ware howls, soars and screams beside him. It’s collective ecstatic expression at its most frenzied and ferocious and a convincing case for Hooker’s instincts-oriented approach. A 42+-minute marathon medley with trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr. and tenorist Booker T. Williams from a Roulette Club hit in early 1988 largely justifies its length, evolving as an extended distillation of the leader’s protean ability to bridge meter-resistant patterns with robust and even danceable beats.

Such conclaves with fellow Loft Jazz veterans were common and the set contains other enthusiastic, long-form improvisations in the company of tenorist David Murray, altoist Jemeel Moondoc, pianist Mark Hennen and trumpeter Lewis “Flip” Barnes. It’s no coincidence that only a single piece involves a bassist (Mark Miller, amplified and doing his best to remain relevant) as Hooker’s dogged rhythmic dynamism frequently has a habit of making the instrument appear superfluous. Murray, also on the gig, gamely engages his colleague on the strings, but the driving link is routinely most tenacious between saxophone and drums.

Hooker works assiduously and assertively in the varied contexts, but he’s conspicuously most cacophonous in the company of reedists and regular running mates Les Goodson and Hasaan Dawkins. “Pieces I, II”, which opens the second disc, presents part of another coarsely-captured library gig with the three players hitting a bull’s-eye in terms of shared, sweat-stained, ecstatic elevation. Hooker’s been unjustly marginalized for much of his now lengthy career, soldiering on in the face of relative indifference and recurring privation and relentlessly following his muse. No Business rights some of those wrongs with this set, presenting a portrait of the percussionist with pre-existing materials that puts the positives of his highly personal methodology into a persuasively profuse package. Hooker late-bloomers like yours truly are most certainly welcome.

Derek Taylor

(nbcd82-85)

SKU nbcd82-85
Barcode # nbcd82-85
Brand No Business

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