Blood Drum Spirit
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Royal Hartigan's two-disc set Blood Drum Spirit draws its musical inspiration from the percussionist's travels and studies in far-flung places. A native of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, Hartigan integrates elements of the music of Ghana, India, and the Philippines as well as Native Americans into his compositions, using them to express his long-standing interests in multiple time signatures and polymeter. Unlike those who use world music as an exotic flavor, Hartigan integrates these influences deep within the structure of his pieces, which are an expression of a worldview that goes beyond music. (The philosophical context of the music is explained in strident anti-colonist rhetoric in the liner notes.) The ballad "Papago-Saguaro Song" features a 23-beat pulse over which David Bindman plays a Native American song. And the one jazz standard here, "Caravan," gets recast in a fast 15/8 time. Such metrical and rhythmic daring is the prime attraction of this date. Hartigan plays with a light touch, allowing his cross rhythms to sound clearly. His harmonic structures tend to be open and modal, giving the soloists, primarily saxophonist Bindman and guitarist Kevin McNeal, plenty of room to stretch out. Given the lengths of the tracks, the session hits some arid spells where the inspiration of the improvisers occasionally runs dry. More often they soar high, lifted by the thermal currents supplied by Hartigan and bassist Wes Brown.
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