Artist: William Hooker Trio
Title: Remembering
William Hooker has been playing jazz since he was a teen in the early 1960s. Over the ensuing decades, the New York-based drummer has worked with so many different people that compiling a full list would be daunting. But he’s still always looking for potential collaborators, and a few years ago in Oakland, he spotted one in guitarist Ava Mendoza. “I found out she was moving to New York,” he says of their first encounter. “So I told her, ‘When you get there, you have to look me up, and we have to play!’”

Last spring, Hooker and Mendoza got their chance, entering a studio at New York University with bassist Damon Smith for their first session as a trio. “I’ve known Damon for quite a while, and he and I immediately clicked,” says Hooker. “I think because of his background in the punk scene, and his feeling of going at the music in really serious ways.” Hooker was less familiar with Mendoza, so he shaped his approach around learning more about her particular style. “I didn’t want to equate [Ava] with anyone I had played with before,” Hooker says. “She has her own thing going on, and I didn’t want to impose on her thing, and I didn’t want her thing to impose on mine.”

The resulting tape, Remembering, achieves Hooker’s goals. Mendoza’s sound takes full flight, mixing careful moves with more unruly excursions, while Hooker’s three-dimensional drumming leads and responds to Smith’s sturdy low end. The session’s impressive sonic variety is emphasized by the fact that Hooker edited it into seven distinct tracks. “[In] free improvisation, things begin and end,” he explains. “Even in terms of the rhythms I play, I can see how certain things coalesce based on just how I approach the improvisation and how I am interacting with the other musicians. That forms a certain idea, and then that idea winds up being the song.”

Hooker titled each song by free association, drawing on his lifelong passion for many artistic mediums. “I study a lot of different things, I read a lot of different things,” he insists. “I try to keep my mind open to not only musical ideas, but literary ideas, artistic ideas in terms of visual arts, sculpture, paintings…different kinds of arts, different kinds of social movements, and different kinds of levels of being, and that produces a title.”

That wide vision fuels Hooker’s new multimedia project, The Great Migration, set to debut in New York in April, with Mendoza as a member of the ensemble. The piece is set in a period between 1935 and 1950 when, according to Hooker, six million African-Americans moved to the South. “It was the largest migration ever amongst any ethnic group that wasn’t either starving or being executed,” he says. “So because of that, it actually changed the course of American history.” Working with different media is nothing new for Hooker, who is equally a musician, poet, teacher, and filmmaker. “I think of it this way: If I am all these things, why not use them?” he says. “You’re looking for things that inspire you, that will generate different ideas about how to play different kinds of music. I figure, do it! Do it with film, with poetry, with big pieces, small pieces. And sometimes, if you can just go into the studio and play, do that. It all works. It’s all music, to me.”

The music Hooker made with Mendoza and Smith worked so well that he hopes to make the trio an ongoing entity. The fact that he can find such inspiring opportunities into his eighth decade on Earth is testament to his searching nature. “It keeps me feeling good about playing music,” Hooker enthuses. “There are so many things that happen over the course of your day and the course of your life that almost makes you feel disappointed about waking up. This makes me feel really good about waking up.”

- from Hi Bias: Notable Cassette Releases on Bandcamp, February 2018

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