Rob Wagner and Hamid Drake


December 05, 2005

The best drummers don't hesitate. They're too loose for that. They're confident beyond reason. Even when band members unsuspectingly change directions, the best drummers seam and mix and morph their approaches in the subtlest way. They make it work. Noone is the wiser. Sometimes I think, in order to make it work, their self-confidence is just as important as their ability.

No matter how talented, most drummers have a smaller perceived value than other band members. That's just the plight of the drummer. There are three immediate exceptions I can think of: Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, and Hamid Drake, who played with saxophonist Rob Wagner and bassist Nobu Osaki at d.b.a. Monday night. Drake, as far as I can see, has a beat on Haynes and Jones. When I saw them, Jones and Haynes were playing in the twilight of their careers with sidemen that, no matter how talented, were around to serve the drummers. So, Jones and Haynes had an easy ticket to shine. Drake didn't have it so easy Monday night. He was working out songs live with unfamiliar players. Improvising shouldn't have been so easy, but his transitions were so fluid. I think of Johnny Vidacovich, but Drake was in a world by himself regarding his quickness. He switched which side of the drumstick he played on with the speed of light, it seemed. I wonder if his ability is a matter of neurons or practice.

Even though Drake was playing in Wagner's group, Drake was the obvious star. Buzz about Drake filled the club's performance room. And to be fair, it was also the first time Wagner played here since the hurricane. According to, "by the close of the 1990s, Hamid Drake was widely regarded as one of the best percussionists in improvised music." He's one of the best players I've seen on the drumkit, but he's absolutely the best player I've seen on a hand drum. For at least two songs, Drake accompanied the other two with a vertical drum he leaned over. He was swift, gentle, and precise. The variations on beats were endless. Seems like he could play on that thing for hours straight.

The trio played hard bop, but they also played bop and more danceable, funky music.


Wagner--Great as usual.
Osaki--Capable, survived. That's saying a lot. He was surrounded with greatness.

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