William Hooker/Lee Ranaldo: The Celestial Answer

The Celestial Answer asks implicitly: Can a free-jazz drummer (William Hooker) and a punk/ambient guitarist (Lee Ranaldo) share a CD without driving each other crazy? Of course they can. But should they? It’s possible this odd couple is absolutely comfortable playing together. Based on the recorded evidence, however, I’m not convinced.

Issues of incompatibility arise immediately on the opening “Celestial 2/1.” Hooker is not a colorist by nature. At his best, he’s the direct opposite: an aggressive, propulsive jazz drummer. His playing virtually defines momentum, whereas guitarist Ranaldo’s static soundscape defies motion. It’s the irresistible force versus the immovable object, with precious little interaction. The track resembles an 18-minute drum solo with guitar/synth accompaniment. Better are cuts where Ranaldo plays guitar more conventionally. A greater emphasis on rhythm makes matters of cause-and-effect less ambiguous. Still, the guitarist is either unwilling or unable to engage in the kind of energetic linear improvisation that Hooker would seem to need from a duo partner.

Each of the several improvised tracks has its moments. Hooker and Ranaldo are, after all, both gifted musicians. This taken as evidence, however, it’s not apparent that they’re particularly well matched.