“Not too close” warned Peter Brotzmann playfully as Hamid Drake approached with a chair in one hand and a large frame drum (most likely the North African bendir, but we won’t swear to that) in the other.
It was a fitting remark as the duo’s often fearsome two-set improvisational performance drew to a close last night at Gumbo Ya Ya. Over the course of an initial 70 minute set, Brotzmann and Drake engaged in visibly stoic but musically riotous sets of exchanges where the sparks truly flew. So, yes, when Drake moved away from the drum kit to play a more intimate show-closing exchange alongside Brotzmann, caution was probably advisable. Someone could have been singed.
But much like the great Brotzmann’s February duo performance here with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (that’s right… the veteran chieftain of the European jazz avant garde was, amazingly, playing Lexington for the second time in just under two months), last night’s concert was a study in contrasts and dynamics with the blues as the middle ground.
Where the three lengthy improvisational pieces making up the first set (which deployed Brotzmann on the clarinet-like tarogato, alto sax and tenor sax, respectively) would recoil and release with varying levels of jazz tension, the far shorter (25 minute) second set opened with Brotzmann playing short, drone-like passages on alto over brushed drum strokes, primarily on snare, by Drake. The results were downright contemplative compared to the first set’s firestorm.
The finale on frame drum, a hand-held instrument that looked like a larger version of the Irish bodhran, with Drake complimenting his playing with chant-like vocals, re-introduced Brotzmann on tarogato. Then came darker, dirtier rumbles on the reed instrument that built to the sort of blues-tinged outbursts that ignited the first set.
The engaged and seemingly eager crowd answered all five improvised works with a response both rewarding and revealing: a beat of silence so that the musical fireworks that had been spitting sparks before them could sink in.