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A Magical Approach

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Album Review

A Magical Approach was released by the Mutable Music label in 2010, and is recommended as an introduction to the inspired individualism of percussionist Jerome Cooper, who plainly states that his music cannot be categorized. This man's philosophy and his intuitive methodology are directly related to membership in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a society based in his hometown of Chicago. Long admired for his collaborations with internationally acclaimed masters of free jazz and collective improvisation, Cooper began concentrating on performing as a soloist during the late '70s and was still at it 30 years later. His primary innovation was to augment the standard American drum kit with the balafon, a small African xylophone equipped with gourd resonators; it is the ancestor of the modern marimba. Placing this instrument securely on top of the snare drum, Cooper weaves rhythmic patterns and generates crosscurrents with a combination of balafon, bass drum, and hi-hat or sock cymbal. That is what was used to generate the remarkable sounds heard on the first track of A Magical Approach. Recorded at Environ in New York City on April 14, 1978, this nearly 18-minute percussion excursion is actually only the first half of an LP issued in 1982 as Root Assumptions. So the original piece goes on for nearly 15 additional minutes.

The other distinctive sound associated with Cooper for more than 30 years is that of the chirimia (sometimes spelled chiramia), a diminutive Latin American oboe that makes a high-pitched keening sound. While living in Mexico he learned that traditional drummers in that part of the world generally blow the chirimia, particularly during festivals, rites, and rituals. His friend, the drummer Antonio Zapata, encouraged Cooper to emulate Honduran drummers in particular by playing both instruments simultaneously. Cooper featured the chirimia on his album The Unpredictability of Predictability, which appeared on the About Time label in 1979. His interest and devotion have long been linked with historic traditions among indigenous peoples. "A lot of what I'm doing musically comes from a Pre-Columbian-type of music. I'm coming from jazz but with my drumming I am thinking Pre-Columbian." This places him in perfect alignment with Brazilian berimbau virtuoso Nana Vasconcelos. Cooper emphasizes the importance of tonalities in tribal drumming of the western hemisphere: "The first rhythm comes from the tones." While African traditions are also clearly involved, he has always made it clear that the trance-like qualities of sounds passed down from ancient drummers of the Americas hold a special place in his heart. His life-long commitment to what is essentially shamanic drumming makes the title of this compilation uncommonly accurate, for in the truest sense this drummer is a magician, adept at transformation and the creation of sacred space. In traditional ritual theater the drums, like masks, are acknowledged as being inhabited by spirits. All of this explains why the music on A Magical Approach is light years beyond entertainment.

In 2006, funded by a grant from the Helen Burke Foundation in New York, Cooper taught and performed in Yangon, Myanmar. The grant was specifically given in order to enable him "to interact with indigenous musicians." Tracks two-six on A Magical Approach were recorded at a sort of AACM reunion event, which took place back in the States on September 7, 2007. By this time Cooper had taken to using a Yamaha keyboard synthesizer to augment his mix with sampling and electronic accents. "My Birds" is designated as a tribute to his companions in the Revolutionary Ensemble, violinist Leroy Jenkins and bassist Norris Jones aka Sirone. The final track, "For the People-In Fear-In Chaos," is a three-way extension of the work that Cooper accomplished in duet with saxophonist Oliver Lake during the spring of 1979. Their efforts (including plenty of chirimia) are preserved on the album For the People, which is among the earliest entries in the hat HUT record catalog. For its cover art, A Magical Approach has a colorful abstract painting by Frederick J Brown, who was born on Chicago's South Side. The album is dedicated to the memory of Captain Walter Henri Dyett, who taught at Chicago's Du Sable High School. The list of great musicians who studied under Dyett is quite extensive and includes Johnny Griffin, Nat King Cole, Von Freeman, Bo Diddley, Dinah Washington, John Gilmore, Joseph Jarman, and Jerome Cooper.


Born: 14 December 1946 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

A sparkling drummer and percussionist, Jerome Cooper has played with many fine groups, notably the superb Revolutionary Ensemble. An excellent accompanist, Cooper's solos are noted for their form and pace; he starts slowly, then steadily develops short phrases into powerful, intricate lines and explosive rhythms. He studied drumming with Oliver Coleman and Walter Dyett in the late '50s and early '60s. Cooper attended the American Conservatory and Loop College during the late '60s. He played with...
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A Magical Approach, Jerome Cooper
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  • 9,99 €
  • Genres: Jazz, Music, Rock
  • Released: 15 July 2010

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