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Mako Sica & Hamid Drake: Ronda (Feeding Tube/Astral Spirits)

Review of the Chicago avant-rock trio's collaboration with a similarly minded percussionist

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Cover of Mako Sica and Hamid Drake album Ronda
Cover of Mako Sica and Hamid Drake album Ronda

Since 2007, the free-improv-minded rock trio Mako Sica has been a vital cog in Chicago’s eclectic avant-garde scene, meandering through similar astral planes to the ones that beguiled John Coltrane, Sonny Sharrock, and hometown heroes the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

The cosmic kinship that guitarist/trumpeter Przemyslaw Drazek, vocalist/guitarist Brent Fuscaldo, and percussionist Chaetan Newell share with those aforementioned icons scaled new heights on Invocation, Mako Sica’s excellent set from 2017. Like Coltrane’s “Spiritual,” the entrancing grooves of Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society, and the six-string pyrotechnics of James “Blood” Ulmer wrapped into one but led by North African-leaning twin-guitar heroics, Invocation remains an overlooked gem well worth seeking out.

For the followup, Mako Sica adds a new dimension of textural beauty to its its blissed-out, string-bending guitarscapes. On Ronda (its title taken from a town in southern Spain with a famous 18th-century bridge crossing a deep gorge), they’ve welcomed a guest into the fray: Hamid Drake, the pioneering percussionist and improviser whose Chicago lineage runs deep, via his extensive work with Fred Anderson, Ken Vandermark, William Parker, and Peter Brötzmann.

The collaboration came at the suggestion of a mutual friend, resulting in live dates and, ultimately, two studio sessions that have yielded the heavy fruits of Ronda. The pairing turns out to be a perfect union as Drake’s global-centric percussive touch complements Mako Sica’s feathery ritual music well.

These brothers-in-arms of spiritual playing embark on lengthy (three of Ronda’s songs clock in at over 14 minutes) spaced-out trips into hypnotic territory, and it’s easy to fall under their spell. Airy and atmospheric, the quartet’s free-rock jams are things of beauty, a unique kind of sorcery that easily draws the listener in with tangled but beautifully melodic webs of guitar lines.

Behind the kit and also adding tablas, frame drum, and hand drums, Drake is the guiding force, freeing up Newell to sprinkle sounds from his stash of instruments including congas, organ, piano, and Native American flute, while Fuscaldo’s wordless chanting and subtle howls top the opening track, “Dance with Waves,” and the trumpet-streaking “Emanation.” Here’s hoping this isn’t a one-off.

Originally Published