"The Ricocheter" - Jazzthing

Number 73 – April/May 2008

"The Ricocheter

In the country of his birth, the USA, Doug Hammond is nearly forgotten. If one enters, for example, his name on “allmusic.com,” only two records are listed – with the characteristic comment: “Years Active: 70s, 80s.” Hardly anyone believes that his emigration to Europe more than 20 years ago is the only reason for that. Because this drummer and composer has always been strong-willed and a free spirit – and still doesn’t mince his words. Neither as a musician, nor as a poet.

Doug Hammond Drummer, Vocalist, Composer, Poet

Gaps in résumés are no rarity. Economic, musical or personal reasons often play a role when one seeks new ways or starts from the beginning again. It is not uncommon that African-American jazz musicians who are dissatisfied with their (living) situation in the U.S. go into the “diaspora” to Europe because their music is much more appreciated here than in the “motherland” of jazz on the other side of the Atlantic.

Doug Hammond is one of those musicians. For more than 20 years, the drummer, who was born in 1942 in Florida, has lived in “old” Europe, first in Germany, then in Austria. “I was here for the first time on tour in 1975. Afterwards, I surely came to Europe every year for concerts. I really moved here in 1984. At that time, I had a small apartment in the Black Forest – until 1988, when I went back to Detroit for one year. Then in 1989, I got the job here in Linz,” explains Doug Hammond, who taught jazz percussion at the renowned Anton Bruckner Private University in Upper Austria’s capital – and adds: “I have been and am often in Germany, in Bremen, in Darmstadt, in Dusseldorf or Berlin, because I love this country, scenically and culturally.”

It is probably only out of the experience in the “diaspora” that such a moving music which penetrates deeply into the soul as that on his new solo album “A Real Deal” (Heavenly Sweetness/Broken Silence) can be made. Though rooted in the tradition of American jazz and soul, yet embracing the complete realm of African-American culture, he improvises, sitting at his drum set or playing the sanza, on his own poems, whose verses he sometimes recites and sometimes sings. Nonetheless, his drum improvisation does not build the framework for his poetry. First his airy grooves and rhythms, first his melodic playing of the drums serve to make his poems gain the maturity and zest that allow the quintessence, the core message, to come to light – almost in the same way as a modern griot. “Yes, I would indeed like to see myself as a griot,” says Hammond, describing his role on “A Real Deal.”

However, “A Real Deal” is more than just the solo CD of a jazz drummer: Hammond succeeds in making a bridge between Africa, the USA and Europe. “During my schooldays I was already listening to many of the records of African musicians that were released by UNESCO. Especially the music of the African “rain forest people,” the so-called pygmies – a distasteful word – fascinated me.” Expanded and complemented by his experiences as a sideman of prominent jazz musicians – for instance, with Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Peter Giger’s Family of Percussion – and as a leader of his own projects (on “Spaces,” for example, Steve Coleman made his real record debut), a likewise moving as well as captivating work of art that strictly defies any commercialization or banalization was created. Embedded in Hammond’s solo performances are three wonderful duo pieces which he recorded with his long-time friend, Kirk Lightsey, who also lives in Europe, in the French capital of Paris, on piano. These three songs, “A Tear,” “Moves” and “Wholeness/The One In All/Forgetfulness,” are something very special: Here they impressively combine the US American song tradition with the European art of song and piano playing like a Franz Schubert, a Robert Schumann, a Claude Debussy or an Arnold Schönberg, very harmonically and amicably – with a Doug Hammond as a movingly interpretive singer of his own written verse, with a Kirk Lightsey as a wonderfully anticipating pianist. By the way, “A Real Deal” is not Doug Hammond’s first album in 20 years, as the information in the CD booklet would lead us to believe: The trio album “Singing Smiles” appeared in 2005 on his own record label Idibib, with an instrumental version of the title track from “A Real Deal” – and with liner notes penned by Jazzthing author Hans-Jürgen Schaal.

Hammond’s skeptical, sometimes pessimistic view of his former homeland has remained – although or precisely because he has lived for many years in Europe. “In 1975 I released “Reflections in the Sea of Nurnen.” That album is also the reason why Antoine (Raion, who produced Hammond’s solo CD – author’s note) became interested in me and my music. On that record I took an unmistakable stand against the Vietnam War – above all with my lyrics, so that I was constantly being asked what I wanted to accomplish through that. The political and societal situation in the USA has not changed or even improved since then – unfortunately.” On December 26, 2007, Doug Hammond turned 65 – and reached his “retirement age”: In mid-February he was sent into retirement by the Anton Bruckner Private University. Retirement? Well, not really, because: “I would love to play 200 concerts a year now, as a soloist, in a duo with Kirk Lightsey or with my trio. That is what I wish for myself in the near future.”

Text: Martin Laurentius

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