36th Vilnius Jazz Festival. 12-16 October, 2022

Hamid Drake’s Turiya: Honoring Alice Coltrane


Hamid Drake – dr, perc, voc, leader
Ndoho Ange – dance, voice
Susana Santos Silva – tp
Jan Bang – electronics
Jamie Saft – p, keyb, Fender Rhodes
Pasquale Mirra – vib, perc
Joshua Abrams – db, guembri

One legend pays tribute to another – that could be the motto of this show. “This project is my way of honoring the great being that enabled the teenager to continue on the path of discovery, wonderment and finding one’s own voice”, says Hamid Drake, one of the world’s most influential and respected percussionists on avant-garde jazz and improvised music scene.

He met the brilliant pianist, organist, harpist and author of several books, Alice Coltrane (1937-2007), at the age of 16 at a concert in Ravinia Park near Chicago and has been exchanging letters with her. Coltrane’s music, creativity, and the light of her personality left a deep imprint on Drake’s work.

“Her impact on me was and still is very powerful. She gifted me with a spiritual and aesthetic openness that I continually cherish”, is how the musician describes the origins of the project. Drake believes that Coltrane was “a great medium that placed music on a more cosmic level”.

This African American artist was endowed with an extraordinary talent for uplifting and inspiring renewal in all those who crossed her path and listened to her music. Her career took off in Detroit before she met her future husband, another jazz icon, John Coltrane.

But Alice did not remain in the shadow of the saxophone legend. The couple’s work has been described by critics as monumental. And after John Coltrane’s death, Alice continued her career focusing on the spiritual nature of music, pastoral practices and meditation. Taking the name Swamini Turiya Aparna Sangitananda, she took very seriously the role of spiritual guide to the community around her and moved further and further away from the daily routine of concert life.

Coltrane’s multifaceted impact on the music scene is still felt today and will probably continue to be felt for a long time. How does it manifest itself? This is what Drake is trying to show with his project, which brings together talented collaborators from several countries. The percussionist has included compositions from 13 of his favourite albums in Turiya, including the ones by Alice and John Coltrane, Don Cherry, Ravi Shankar and Jimi Hendrix.

Hamid Drake, one of today’s foremost percussionists, was born in Louisiana and later moved with his family to Illinois, near Chicago. There he played drums in rock and R&B bands before meeting saxophonist Fred Anderson, who became his long-time stage partner.

Drake recorded his debut albums with Anderson’s band, through which he met George Lewis, an influential figure in experimental music, and other members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an important driver of Chicago’s experimental music scene, and began to expand his activities.

He also became a member of the Mandingo Griot Society led by the Gambian kora virtuoso Foday Musa Suso and appeared on the group’s first album. Drake has also played in various line-ups with his childhood friend, percussionist Adam Rudolph. In 1978, Drake formed a long-standing partnership with free jazz trumpeter Don Cherry (1936-1995), whom he also calls his mentor.

Over the next decade, Drake began branching out, working with Herbie Hancock, Jim Pepper, Pierre Dørge and other prominent improvisers. He has also played in the Latin jazz band Night on Earth, Norwegian pianist Georg Gräwe’s Quartet, the DKV Trio with Kent Kessler and Ken Vandermark, and one of Chicago’s longest-running experimental jazz bands, Liof Munimula.

After Anderson’s death in 2010, the saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and the double bassist William Parker became the most stable collaborators of the percussionist.

Everyone is eager to play with Drake because of his creativity and his inexhaustible arsenal that fascinates with range of instruments, ethnic flavour and a variety of rhythms and genres. Countless projects and recordings have brought Drake together with Pharoah Sanders, Marilyn Crispell, Misha Mengelberg, Wayne Shorter, Malachi Thompson, Archie Shepp, Joe McPhee, Matthew Shipp, Matthew Shipp, David Murray, Michael Zerang, Bill Laswell, Mats Gustafsson, Sylvain Kassap, Borah Bergman, Toshinori Kondo, and many other jazz greats.

In 2018, he also started playing with the Chicago-based avant rockers Mako Sica, releasing two albums with them. As a project leader and co-leader, Drake has been featured on numerous albums for various record labels.

During the year of pandemic, the percussionist’s earlier recordings with Brötzmann and the African guembri player Maâlem Mokhtar Gania, with Mat Walerian, Shipp and Parker, with the Karuna Trio featuring Rudolph and Ralph M. Jones, and with the pianist Irene Schweizer, appeared.

In 2022, Drake was voted (not for the first time) the best percussionist of the year in a critics’ poll of DownBeat, the legendary music magazine. 

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