By Dave Cantor | Published December 2019
“Freedom Rider,” the second cut on veteran drummer William Hooker’s Symphonie Of Flowers, likely was intended to invoke Art Blakey as much as civil-rights activists. Of course, Blakey was both.
But on this album—just as he has done through decades of abstract and poignant work with folks situated in the jazz and rock worlds—Hooker uses history to enliven a suite of music that bounds through subgenres and percussive ideas, tying together philosophy and sentiment in a way that generations of players have aimed for, but few have achieved. Is it broadly palatable? Probably not. But neither were the machinations of pianist Cecil Taylor, and we’re not likely to forget about him any time soon.
The bandleader opens the disc with “Chain Gangs,” and wraps up the program with “Hieroglyphics,” which judders with gravelly synthesizer, freely blown saxophone and snippets of piano and flute, as well as Hooker’s percussive acrobatics. Points between—“Rastafarian,” with its new-music lilt and fiery drums display, or “Jazz,” which seems to posit the freer history of the music as the line to follow—serve to fill out Hooker’s perspective on the genre’s development alongside bits of social commentary.
More drum features crop up on Symphonie than listeners are going to find on most other jazz-related discs. And sometimes it’s actually a handful of drummers—Warren Smith, Michael Thompson, Marc Edwards and Hooker—blasting away, while players switch to keyboards and summon jagged snatches of melody to color Hooker’s dramatic suite.