Double CD documenting the magic meeting of one of the all-time great rhythm sections in jazz: percussionist Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker, with London’s brilliant Black Top (Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas) and Elaine Mitchener. Across two sets the quintet are infectiously energetic and inspired, striding from synchronised heavy groove to star bright solos, whilst incorporating dub effects, guimbri and sumptuous blues piano playing.
Formed by Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas but always realised with an ever changing number of invited musicians, Black Top's blend of lo-fi samples, dub effects and experimental electronics has been daring free improvisation since 2011. Their virtuoso performances draw on their Afro-Caribbean roots with delicious spontienty and humour; the histories of Ridley Road Market, the LIO and Islamic West Africa are sounded out side by side on iPad, marimba and vibraphone. Having met in 2006, Black Top played with bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake as part of their residency at Cafe OTO in 2016; forming a quartet grounded in transatlantic kinship but which looked outward to the Carribean, calypso music and Saharan gnawa rhythms. When Parker and Drake returned to OTO in 2019 Black Top reformed again, but this time with the brilliant addition of vocalist Elaine Mitchener.
Over the last few years the clarity with which Mitchener has explored vocal expression in the global Black Avant Garde has been stunning, but here the range in her influences is manifest, moving effortlessly between phonetic and poetic experimentation and spoken word, all the while at ease with soul soaked jazz and dissonant free fall. A hand drum duet with Hamid Drake astonishes before being laced perfectly with cosmic theremin and Parker’s fantastic acid shehnai.
Recorded live at Cafe OTO on Sunday 28th July 2019 by Paul Skinner and mixed and mastered by James Dunn. Photos by Dawid Laskowski and artwork by Oliver Pitt.
Available as 320k MP3 or 24bit FLAC
CD1 “Put the Brakes On” - 50:08
CD2 “Some Good News” - 56:43
Born and raised in East London of Jamaican heritage Elaine Mitchener is a contemporary vocalist, movement artist and composer, who encompasses improvisation, contemporary/experimental music theatre and dance. She has worked and collaborated with numerous leading artists including Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother), Mark Padmore, George E. Lewis, The Otolith Group, Sonia Boyce, Tansy Davies, Hamid Drake, Van Huynh Company, Apartment House, David Toop, London Sinfonietta, Steve Beresford, Christian Marclay, Phil Minton, Ensemble Manufaktur für aktuelle Musik, William Parker, Alexander Hawkins. She is founder of collective electroacoustic trio The Rolling Calf with saxophonist Jason Yarde and bassist Neil Charles.
“Elaine Mitchener has ACHIEVED A MOST DIFFICULT CHALLENGE ; She has created a dauntingly vivid theatrical evocation of deep and prolonged collective pain in such a way as to bring out OUR emotional empathy fundamental to communication. She has not aimed for ‘beautiful art’ but her unblinking honesty and the ultrasensitive resonance of her three musical companions, has parAdoxically created something of real, visceral beauty- art,in fact.” – Robert Wyatt THE WIRE
“SWEET TOOTH is a vital black British addition to those seminal creative statements of resistance and defiance from the African Diaspora.” (Kevin Le Genre, Jazzwise)
Hamid Drake is an American jazz drummer and percussionist. He lives in Chicago, IL but spends a great deal of time touring worldwide. By the close of the 1990s, Hamid Drake was widely regarded as one of the best percussionists in jazz and avant improvised music. Incorporating Afro-Cuban, Indian, and African percussion instruments and influence, in addition to using the standard trap set, Drake has collaborated extensively with top free-jazz improvisers. Drake also has performed world music; by the late 70s, he was a member of Foday Musa Suso’s Mandingo Griot Society and has played reggae throughout his career.
Drake has worked with trumpeter Don Cherry, pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonists Pharoah Sanders, Fred Anderson, Archie Shepp and David Murray and bassists Reggie Workman and William Parker (in a large number of lineups).
"[Drake's] mastery of pulse drumming, textural sculpting, hand drum techniques, reggae, funk and garage punk makes him one of the most articulate and linguistically advanced musicians on the circuit… Cecil Taylor once claimed that each man is his own academy. If that's the case, Drake is surely one of the mystery schools." - David Keenan, The WIRE
William Parker is an improviser, and composer. He plays the bass, shakuhachi, double reeds, tuba, donson ngoni and gembri. He entered the music scene in 1971, and quickly became a sought after bass player in the New York music scene. He has played with many musicians from the avant-garde such as, Bill Dixon, Sunny Murray, Charles Tyler, Alan Silva, Frank Wright, Rashid Ali, Donald Ayler, Sonny Simmons, Jeanne Lee, Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Lyons, Milford Graves and with traditionalists like Walter Bishop, Sr. and Maxine Sullivan.
"William Parker, the former Cecil Taylor sideman, exhibits a fearlessness, double-bass virtuosity and tough lyricism that perhaps makes him the closest bassist/composer equivalent to the late Charles Mingus." John Fordham, The Guardian
William’s early collaborations with the dancer and choreographer Patricia Nicholson created a large repertoire of composed music for ensembles ranging from solo works to big band projects. Parker played in the Cecil Taylor Unit from 1980 through 1991. He has also performed with musicians from the AACM such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, Ernest Dawkins, and The Art Ensemble of Chicago.
In addition to his work with artists in the United Stated, William Parker has developed a strong relationship with musicians in the European Improvised Music scene such as Peter Kowald, Peter Brotzmann, Han Bennink, Tony Oxley, Derek Bailey, John Tchicai and Louis Moholo.
Pat Thomas studied classical piano from aged 8 and started playing Jazz from the age of 16. He has since gone on to develop an utterly unique style - embracing improvisation, jazz and new music. He has played with Derek Bailey in Company Week (1990/91) and in the trio AND (with Noble) – with Tony Oxley’s Quartet and Celebration Orchestra and in Duo with Lol Coxhill.
"Sartorially shabby as Thomas may be, and on first impression even rather stolid, he has a somewhat imperious charisma that’s immediately amplified when he starts to play. Unlike other pianists whose virtuosity seems to be racing ahead of their thought processes Thomas always seems supremely in command of his gift, and his playing, no matter how free and ready to tangle with abstraction, always carries a charge of authoritative exactitude." - The Jazzmann
Orphy Robinson is one of the major figures of the jazz scene - he has released records on Blue Note and played with Don Cherry, David Murray, Henry Threadgill, Courtney Pine, Jazz Warriors and Andy Shepherd.
He has composed for Film and TV- including “In answer to your question” for the Balanescu String Quartet and “ 42 Shades of Black” for Phoenix Dance Theatre,which was performed at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Currently leads the groups CODEFIVE- NUBIAN VIBES - he also plays in the groups BRUISE and CLEAR FRAME
"As the saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter once famously remarked in a 1992 interview with Mel Martin, “The word ‘jazz’ means to me no category”. You would similarly search in vain for a pigeon hole in which to place Black Top #5. An evening of surpassing invention and ambition, there might be a more creative, more engaging and more inspiring gig at this year’s London Jazz Festival. But I somehow doubt it." - The Arts Desk