Time and Place(ments)

All jazz fans know the great drummer and composer Joe Chambers. Chambers can play anything but originally came to prominence in the 1960’s as part of a group of black jazz musicians who were seriously interested in contemporary classical composition: Tony Williams, Sam Rivers, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson, Andrew Hill, Joe Henderson, Richard Davis, Wayne Shorter, many others. Their most experimental work is on Blue Note, often with telling album titles like Oblique, Components, or Contours.

Chambers’s brother Stephen was on the scene at that time as well. He took the name Talib Rasul Hakim and had an important career as a concert composer. According to Wikipedia his teachers were Morton Feldman, Ornette Coleman, Margaret Bonds, Robert Starer, Hall Overton, Chou Wen-Chung, William Sydeman, Hale Smith, and Charles Whittenberg.

Sadly Hakim passed away in 1988. A few things were recorded. I’ve known the piano piece Sound-Gone for a few years from Natalie Hinderas’s invaluable record of Afro-American piano music. However tonight I’ve discovered something just as intriguing: Placements, a long sectional work for percussion and piano recorded in 1975. The percussionists are Barbara Burton, Joe Chambers, Omar Clay, Warren Smith, and Wilson Moorman. The piano soloist is firebrand Stanley Cowell.

I emailed Stanley to see if he remembers how much was notated. Stanley replied that as far as he can recall, it was all composed, although “I am pretty sure I could not read all those clusters in the middle section. Those must’ve been improvised with some direction.”

As with Sound-Gone, Placements takes a while to get going. Probably the first few minutes would be more effective live. However, the mallet motifs and piano flourishes that gather steam around the seven-minute mark are utterly compelling. The work as a whole is a fascinating document from a vanished era.

From the Folkways LP Talib Hakim/ William Bolcom / Howard Swanson / Frederic Rzewski ‎– New American Music Volume 3.