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

Shabaka Hutchings - Majid Bekkas - Hamid Drake

United Kingdom-Morocco-USA

Shabaka Hutchings – ts, cl, bamboo fls 

Majid Bekkas – guembri, oud, voc
Hamid Drake – drs, voc

Three unique, jazz meteors orbiting their own universes – Shabaka Hutchings, one of Britain’s brightest jazz talents, Majid Bekkas, the custodian of the Moroccan Gnawa tradition, and Hamid Drake, one of the world’s most authoritative percussionists in the world of avant-garde jazz and improvised music – come together for the first time on tour in Europe for an enchanting fusion of black soul, African melody and dance riffs, and energetic swing.

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings has already visited Lithuania with his resourceful bands Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming, which became the British jazz discovery of the decade. And their leader, Hutchings, has been hailed as one of the inspirations behind the renaissance of the London jazz scene that has not been seen since the 1960s.

Interestingly, this wildly imaginative musician studied classical clarinet at London’s prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Hutchings admits that he is not about jazz traditions and considers himself a musician in the broadest sense.

“We respect the history of music, and we adore music, but we’re not trying to play a genre,” the saxophonist said of his band Sons of Kemet, which plays his music. The band has a very unusual line-up: saxophone, tuba and two drummers. The music of his The Comet Is Coming is thrilling as well: a true apocalyptic soundtrack of jazz, funk, psychedelic rock and electronic sounds.

Hutchings’ eccentric creative phenomenon grew out of his Caribbean roots. Born in London, he grew up in Barbados, where he spent ten years at school, playing clarinet in the school band and experiencing the magic of hot Caribbean carnivals with calypso music. He brings that spirit of mass street fun and togetherness into his performances.

“I’m not trying to be Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane. My core vocabulary is jazz, but I’m not trying to have the energy of someone in a suit standing stationary in front of a microphone giving a nice round sound. I’m trying to just spit out fire,” said the saxophonist.

Hutchings came to prominence as a member of saxophone master Pete Wareham’s Melt Yourself Down. His own first band was Sons of Kemet (Kemet is an ancient name of Egypt). The band’s first albums Burn and Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do, released in 2013 and 2015 on the UK’s Naim Jazz label, were well received. Your Queen Is a Reptile (2018) turned to be their most mature album.

Shabaka and The Ancestors is among Hutchings’ most notable projects. The music of all his bands is steeped in the colourful influences of London’s club culture. As jazz continues to look back, Hutchings’ music is open to the present and forward-looking.

Moroccan Majid Bekkas is internationally known for his contributions to World music and Ethno-jazz, and for his unique synthesis of traditional North African music and jazz improvisation in his music.

As a young artist, he played banjo in Moroccan bands, then studied classical guitar at the Conservatory for Music and Dance in Rabat. He became interested in the sacred music of the African Gnawa and mastered its traditional instrument, the three-stringed bass lute guembri.

In 1990, Majid founded Gnaoua Blues Band, playing a fusion of African American blues and Gnawa music. In 1996, Bekkas has been artistic co-directors of the festival Jazz au Chellah in Rabat.

His first concert in Europe took place in Mulhouse (France) in 1997 with the avant-garde coryphées Peter Brötzmann and Hamid Drake. Since then, the Moroccan has frequented the stages of the Old Continent with jazz and World music artists. As a soloist and with various formations, Bekkas has appeared at WOMEX, the Jazzfest Berlin and other major festivals. Last year he toured the US with his band.

The Moroccan has collaborated with such prominent figures as Louis Sclavis, Archie Shepp, Randy Weston, Klaus Doldinger, Joachim Kühn and Pharoah Sanders. With German pianist Kühn and Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez, he has recorded five albums and appeared in numerous festivals. The trio has been active for more than 16 years.

Bekkas has also won recognition for his albums: Mogador was awarded the European jazz award Django d’Or (2004); Passport to Marocco, recorded with Doldinger’s band Passport, received the German Jazz Award (2009); Al Qantara garnered the French Académie Charles-Cros award (2015); Magic Spirit Quartet, recorded with young Scandinavian musicians, received the highest ratings in BBC Musical Magazine and Downbeat (2020).

In 2010, the Moroccan National Music Committee awarded the artist the Al Farabi Prize for his contribution to Moroccan music, and in 2018 he received the Visa for Music for his global work.

One of the most prominent contemporary percussionists, American Hamid Drake, captivated the Vilnius Jazz audience last year with his project Turiyja, which revisited the musician’s inspiration – the famous jazz composer Alice Coltrane. “She inspired me to a spiritual and aesthetic openness that I am constantly fostering,” said the artist.

All the stars want to play with Drake because of his creativity and his inexhaustible arsenal of instruments, ethnic colours and rhythms, and the diversity of 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, David Murray, Michael Zerang, Bill Laswell, Mats Gustafsson, Sylvain Kassap, Borah Bergman, Toshinori Kondo, and many other jazz greats.

Drake was born in Louisiana and later moved with his family to Illinois, near Chicago. There he played drums in rock and R&B bands until he met saxophonist Fred Anderson, who became his long-time stage partner.

Drake recorded his debut albums with Anderson’s band. Anderson brought him into contact with George Lewis, an authority in experimental music, and other members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the key mover of Chicago’s experimental music scene. At the time Drake 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. 1978 saw the beginning of Drake’s long-standing partnership with free jazz trumpeter Don Cherry (1936–1995), whom he also calls his mentor.

In the following decade, Herbie Hancock, Jim Pepper, Pierre Dørge and other prominent improvisers joined the colourful circle of Drake’s stage partners. He has also played in the Latin jazz group 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 his most regular collaborators.

Alongside his long-time partners, in 2018 Drake started playing with Chicago-based avant-rock band Mako Sica, releasing two albums with them. As a project leader and co-leader, he has been featured on numerous albums on various record labels. Recent recordings include those with Brötzmann and the African guembri virtuoso Maâlem Mokhtar Gania, with Mat Walerian, Shipp and Parker, with the Karuna Trio involving Rudolph and Ralph Jones, and with pianist Irene Schweizer.

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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