See the video from the concert and interview with Drake.

Hamid Drake and Jesse Stewart filled GigSpace with sound – and people – on Friday night.

Jesse Stewart and Hamid Drake listen carefully to each other while preparing for their Friday concerts. ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Jesse Stewart and Hamid Drake listen carefully to each other while preparing for their Friday concerts. ©Brett Delmage, 2013
The two renowned percussionists – one from Chicago, one from Ottawa – have known each other for a decade, and as Stewart mentioned in his introduction, have had long discussions about music whenever they've met. But this was their first chance to actually perform together.

They played two concerts, each about 75-80 minutes long, each completely improvised. But both are well-known improvisers in many different contexts, and there was no hesitation or jerkiness in the music. They listened, they interposed, they moved smoothly from instrument to instrument as inspiration occurred.

Each started out on a standard drum set, but also included other instruments: a waterphone, a handheld marimba, a string of bells, and a bass harmonica for Stewart, and a frame drum for Drake. They both also played the shared congas, and used a small bronze bowl at different times to produce a lovely singing tone which filled the room.

Partway through both concerts, Drake chanted while playing the frame drum. His hands created complex patterns which built on each other, while he sang (in the second set) first a prayer from a Tibetan yogi, and then a song in Arabic from the Sufi tradition. His voice created a strong and almost hypnotic base for the shifting rhythms.

There was a huge dynamic range in the concert, from ear-achingly loud when both were playing drums full out (particularly at the end of the first concert and the beginning of the second), to barely-there threads of sound and rhythm. There was no lack of ideas, and little repetition from piece to piece or among concerts.

At his talk at Carleton University on Thursday, Drake had mentioned that he loved playing in small, intimate places, like the 60-seat Lunar Cabaret in Chicago, and both he and Stewart appeared very comfortable in the 46-seat GigSpace.

The audiences at both concerts were intent and listening carefully, clapping enthusiastically at the end of each piece, with a standing ovation at the end. They even asked a few intelligent questions. The 7 p.m. concert was mostly full, while the 9 p.m. concert was sold out with even some extra chairs being brought in.

    – Alayne McGregor

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