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WILLIAM HOOKER (Buy CDs by this artist)
... Is Eternal Life (Reality Unit Concepts) 1978
Brighter Lights (Reality Unit Concepts) 1982
Colour Circle (Cadence) 1989
Lifeline (Silkheart) 1989
Subconscious (Ecstatic Peace!) 1992
The Firmament/Fury (Silkheart) 1992
Shamballa: Duets With Thurston Moore and Elliott Sharp (Knitting Factory Works) 1993
Radiation (Homestead) 1994
Armageddon (Homestead) 1995
Envisioning (Knitting Factory Works) 1995

This New York-based drummer has played a large part in forging a bond between the city's free-jazz and downtown rock scenes while — and this is the tricky part — refusing to compromise the purity of essence that's pervaded his music for nearly two decades. Hooker plays with enough power to steer combos suffused with post-punk guitar scree, while maintaining a terpsichorean grace (reminiscent of Rashied Ali, a John Coltrane sideman who has had ephemeral involvement with the avant-rock scene as well) that effortlessly demonstrates the limits of most "rock" percussion.

Hooker's work is steeped in new age philosophy — ...Is Eternal Life resounds with intricate patterns that bring to mind aural recreations of Druid stone circles — but the burning intensity of something like the side-long duet with reedman David Murray would no doubt provoke convulsions among Windham Hill devotees who claimed the term as accepted nomenclature for their brand of Holiday Inn jazz. Brighter Lights further explores the ancient. Hooker's rolling, imperceptibly shifting patterns — crafted almost exclusively on floor toms and bass drum, a tactic which adds considerable loam to spirit-world forays like "Others (Unknowing)" — betray little cognizance of the presence of pianist Mark Hennen and Alan Braufman, whose unfettered flute work nevertheless makes its mark. Through it all, Hooker plays with the passion-and dervish-like viscerality — of a shaman.

The six extended phrases that make up The Firmament/Fury offer more variation — in part because of the shifting lineup, and in part because Hooker's own improvisations tend to develop in less linear fashion. The album touches on the subtle, organic textures of his earlier work (as on "For the Spirit of the Earth," a duet with serene alto player Claude Lawrence), but spends more time exploring a more menacing head, particularly on the tracks like "Pralaya," where Hooker takes up the acidic challenge of Borbetomagus guitarist Donald Miller. Feeling your way through its textures is like exploring a bas-relief map of the soul.

The live Subconscious lets Hooker exhibit his range as a bandleader — no mean feat for a guy who's "just" a drummer — as he guides a copacetic sextet through the terrain's intricate rhythmic paths, quietly asserting himself without once overplaying. Shamballa alternates duets with bassist/guitarist Elliott Sharp and guitarist Thurston Moore: Sharp's contributions lend an unusual sensuality to the proceedings, while Moore acquits himself admirably as a heat-of-the-moment improviser with a minimum of electro-shtick. Even so, Envisioning, Lee Ranaldo's long-simmering collaboration with Hooker, strikes more deeply into the subconscious, since the other Sonic Youth guitarist seems less self-conscious about surrendering himself to the drummer's flow.

Radiation, culled from a pair of live dates, may be the furthest "outside" of Hooker's recordings, insofar as his collaborators (Miller again, along with electronics wiz Brian Doherty, reedman Charles Comp and trombonist Masahiko Kono) do their utmost to avoid so much as a single standard progression. It's up to Hooker to act as captain, navigator and engine-stoker — and deeply moving songs like "Green" and the two halves of the "Darkness" suite prove him up to the task. Pure exhilaration. In comparison, the studio-spawned Armageddon sounds almost mellow — aside from the spine-tingling "State Secrets," which showcases Black Rock Coalition co-founder Jesse Henry's shattering guitar work. An attempt to integrate post-hip-hop turntable work gives "Time (Within)" an air of gimmickry, but elsewhere, Hooker's playing is as free of space and time constraints as ever.

[David Sprague]
   See also Borbetomagus, Elliott Sharp, Sonic Youth