William Hooker-

Hard Time CD


Your Flesh #42

"Hard Time consists of improvised music taken from CBGB performances on 8/16/94 and 12/1/95. Hooker is joined by two guitarists (Donald Miller of Borbetomagus is one) and one righteous synth twister. For the first eight minute piece, "Computer Glasses", the listener is bombarded with a fuzzed-out, processed techno squall led by the man's monstrous CBGB drum bombs. While I usually object to the unrelenting hair metal hugeness of the CB's sound (best in the city, my ass), with these renderings it serves as an industrially accented new music caterwaul that's only jazz because it's not rock. Tracks are distinguished and given names like "Cloning (the self)", and "Lincoln's Microchip", but there's little change in the renegade robot pillage until the saxophonist shows up to add some goose death on "The T.V. Wall". This antiquated contraption of musicianly interplay is a little less man/machine hybrid, perhaps more biologically inspired. The synth does its best to cut its strings, but it's still a sad puppet. The guitars puke to hear such a sound and the dish ran away with a dying sun."-Dave Rick

Alternative Press 131 June 1999

"NYC-based free drummer William Hooker has always been the victim of paradox. When examining his body of work, one finds that Hooker's most inspiring moments are consistently marred by substandard recording. The more cathartic the performance, the crappier the tape.
Hard Time was mastered from analog cassette recordings of two CBGB's performances from 1994 and 1995. So the knee-jerk conclusion is that Hooker has once again assembled a great band, only to diminish its power by recording it through the plumbing in the city subway system.
Nevertheless, Hard Time is Hooker's best work ever. The recording values are amazing in light of the source tapes' poor quality. The players create a maelstrom of sound that seemingly approximates the noise inside the core of the sun. And the old adage that 'no man is an island' can now be discarded, because Hooker is a one-man planet of force, dynamics, overtones and space. Synthesizer operator Doug Walker spews vibrant electronic textures over Donald Miller and Jesse Henry's caustic guitar death-matches. Hooker, in all his splendid jurisprudence, knows when to slam it down and when to drop out of the mix and listen ('Abandoned', 'Cloning [the self]'). And when sax player Richard Keene faces off against Walker's circuitry and the guitarists' piranha-esque gnawing ('The TV Wall'), Hooker flails away, stopping the proceedings from falling into a 17,000-mile abyss of redundancy.
What separates Hard Time from the seemingly endless parade of useless group-improvisation records (many of which have been made by Hooker's peers) is an all-too-rare sense of sonic discovery. Hard Time is the kind of record dismissed by Wynton Marsalis acolytes as being 'useless noise'. And therein lies yet another paradox: By creating an infernal, hellish noise, Hooker is able to get closer to the Creator. Hooker to the highest, amen".-Jason Pettigrew

The Wire Issue 184, June 1999

"Hard Time, recorded at CBGB's in August 1994 and January 95, teams firebrand drummer William Hooker with Borbetomagus guitarist Donald Miller alongside relative unknowns: Doug Walker on synthesizer, Jesse Henry on guitar and Richard Keene on sax. In its head-on engagement with John Coltrane's prime testament-Ascension's climactic stockpile to infinity-the first set is unrelenting. Although Walker's primitive and frankly cackhanded yawing from one extremity of pitch to another initially threatens to rip the whole enterprise asunder, he eventually settles down, allowing the listener to concentrate on the yawning hole being rent in temporal consciousness by Hooker, Miller and Henry. Saxophonist Keene steps up only for the second more subtly nuanced set. This fine disc might not add much to Hooker's ever expanding catalogue, but it certainly stands as fiery testament to his work as New York's prime scorched earth agent, slashing and burning his way across the no man's land between jazz and rock".-Tim Owen

Cadence Vol. 25 No. 2, February 1999

"I have great admiration for William Hooker. He appears to have no interest in pandering to casual listeners or even in entertainment value: he's looking for a mystical union with the godhead at each deafening moment. His perspective seems to be: if this approach sells records, fine: if not, so much the worse for those who don't understand. Hooker's not just knocking on heaven's door, he's bashing away at it. On Hard Time he and his mates provide primal examples of Hooker's violent, ecstatic art. The assault on one's senses here is merciless and seemingly endless. Like Cecil Taylor, Charles Gayle, and David Ware when those gentlemen are 'on', Hooker doesn't get enervated from his flailing, the divine feedback loop just seems to make him stronger. Thus, an evening of his music can seem like...well...eternity. Is his harsh vision in some sense true of the world? On the atomic or molecular level, certainly: every note seems an accurate picture of this savage realm. To sink into these thick layers of noise is like descending into a world of clashing, ricocheting, but somehow cooperating particles. On these dates, the guitarists provide the thick, squealing ether, and Richard Keene is something of a free Jazz proton to Hooker's leaping electrons. He moves around, but not nearly as fast. Meanwhile, Doug Walker undertakes various subatomic roles with his analog howls and bloops. This kind of stuff is not easy or always pleasant, but this is true of many of the most wonderful things in life, isn't it? These live sessions from 1994 and 1995 are on a par with Hooker's fine work with both Zeena Parkins and the late (and sorely missed) Glenn Spearman. I promise the seekers out there that the spiritual gain from Hard Time will be well worth the delicious punishment to your senses and the angry calls from your neighbors."-Walter Horn

CMJ New Music Report December 14, 1998

"While drummer William Hooker's speedy, heavy-handed technique owes much to revered names like Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones, the aptly-titled Hard Time is not free jazz, nor is it an aimless blare of noise. Hooker looks like a big, cuddly koala bear, but he batters his kit with the abandon of a coked-up hitman. Though the percussionist practically ignores subtlety and finesse, the accents of his savory, endless rolls hit like bare knuckles. The hollow fidelity on this set of live-at-CBGB compositions weakens the in-person impact of Hooker's skins, but his quintet's howling and engaging interplay climaxes with captivating, nearly-religious huskiness and passion. On the closing 'Slaughtered Lambs', Richard Keene's sax motif wanders naked through a tempest of bleeding electronics, roiling kick/snare punctuations and Donald Miller's air-raid guitar - a glimpse of tradition in a beautifully iconoclastic abyss."-Jordan N. Mamone

All Music Guide Web site

"This excellent, risk-taking CD is taken from two of William Hooker's gigs at New York's CBGB's, one on August 16, 1994, and the other on December 1, 1995. On both nights, the drummer provides an explosive yet atmospheric mixture of free jazz and rock that only the most adventurous listeners will appreciate. Freeform instrumentals such as "Lincoln's Microchip", "The TV Wall" and "Slaughtered Lambs" don't follow a conventional melody/solos/melody structure, but rather find Hooker and his sidemen (who include Doug Walker on keyboards, Donald Miller or Jesse Henry on electric guitar and Richard Keene on sax) simply taking a theme or a mood and improvising on it in a very stream-of-consciousness, outside fashion. With his outrageous, space-is-the-place electronics, Walker proves to be a major asset for the daring Hooker. To be sure, music this 'out there' isn't for everyone, but those with a taste for the avant-garde will find Hard Time to be a most thrilling excursion."-Alex Henderson

LA Weekly Dec. 18-24, 1998

"Who's the baddest of the bad? Anyone who has caught New York drummer Hooker locally knows the answer. Hard Time accompanies his brutal humanism with unrestrained screeling and barfing from synth, guitar and sax. 'What is that noise?' asked my wife, phoning me midtrack. Be honest, listeners: When all the wrapping paper is scattered around the living room, this, not 'Silent Night', is what you really want to hear."-Greg Burk

Ink Blot Web Zine, 1/99

"You've heard of the eye of the storm, and the calm that exists there; William Hooker's music finds serenity by leaning straight into the gale-force wind. His drumming is a study in brutal power; pummeling, relentless, dragged along by a wild kick drum attack that carves crosshatched designs across his dense patterns.
He leads his ensemble from the front, and each player adds a layer to the group's weighty sound. Even by Hooker's standards, this is an especially dense and demanding recording. The two guitarists generate raw noise in thick bandwidths while synthesizer player Doug Walker and saxophonist Richard Keene splash neon Pollock streams and blood-hued splatters across the group's impenetrable wall of sound.
Hooker understands that pressure is best felt when it's varied, so he periodically lightens the load by having one or more lay out from time to time. But overall it's an extreme sound, joyously exhilarating to experience."-Bill Meyer

Mole Number 12

"It's hard to imagine Hooker as anything but live, so this concert recording comes as no surprise. Drums provide a skeleton that's padded out by sound and fury of electronic noise and sculpted magico-feedback. Not so cushioned that Hooker's energy is lost, but the brute force of his battery is picked up and spread out thru other fields. Magnify a stick hitting a head, stretch the blow-noise out so you can see all of it, and that's what's approximated here: the aura of the beat. Hooker's in there, whipping up a storm that for mere mortals has to be conjured by other hands and other tools. But the whole is controlled by the center-never fear, it will not fail. Quintet includes Borbetomagus git-wrecker Don Miller".-Jeff Bagato

Gajoob's DIY Report #89, 4/13/99

"My first impression just looking at this album was that it was going to be a Blues project. I couldn't have been more wrong. This album is a live project recorded at NYC's famous CBGB club on 8-16-94 and 12-1-95. The music is improvised electronic, techno, and noise pieces. The first track, "Computer Glasses", inspired my friend to say, "This is what it sounds like in R2D2's brain," and I must agree. This album is full of Melt Down music- Acid Jazz for the new millennium. The songs are relatively formless to the listener, and the album meanders from song to song. It is difficult to tell where one concept ends and another begins, for the swirling tracks cascade into one another. Track 7, "Slaughtered Lambs", breaks this cycle with a more identifiable melody and accompanying saxophone. This album is sometimes dark, and is not for the lighthearted. Strap yourself in, and prepare for the mind-ride of your life."-Phil Simon

Copper Press Issue Number One June 1999

"William Hooker exists on a different plane from you and I. His presence may lie in our physical world, but his mind and spirit float in an alternate sphere. His intensity alone separates him from an overwhelming majority of musicians, let alone the populous. Whether attacking his drumkit in a frenzied ecstasy or splashing and crashing like waves behind the lead of a piano or horn, Hooker is immersed in the moment and in the sphere in which that moment transcends his soul. Even if I don't enjoy everything he's created, his dedication to his art is beautiful. Of two of his more recent records, Hard Time is a vastly more difficult and challenging listen. The guitars and electronics sting like onions, with their wailing incessant walls of feedback, dissonance and piercing distortion tearing the soundscape in drops of electronic bleeps and electric scrawl. Buried beneath the information overload is Hooker, pummeling his toms in a nonstop caterwaul designed, I imagine, to communicate with the high-end histrionics. According to the liner notes there's a saxophone in there somewhere"-Steve Brydges

Scram #9

"Avant garde drummer improvises seven frenetic original compositions with a band composed of (in order of audibility) synthesizer, two guitars and sax. The energy level starts high, mostly remains there. Recorded live at CBGB's in 1994 and '95."-Kim Cooper

The Newsletter of the Alliance for Improvised Music Issue #1, April 1997

I found this a tough article to write. I'm not overly familiar with William Hooker's music and the promo material we received didn't have a lot of personal information. There was a good deal about his collaborations with Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth. He's been leading adventurous ensembles for over 20 years and has released albums on Silkheart, Homestead, Table of the Elements, Knitting Factory Works, and other labels. He's also worked with David Murray, David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, Mike Watt from firehose, and Donald Miller of Borbetomagus. That's it for background info - how old he is I don't know. Actually, 'worked with' may not be fully accurate. William Hooker never works as a sideman, only as a leader, which is extremely rare for a 'jazz' musician - especially one who blasts across the imaginary borders between genres as easily as Hooker does. Paradoxically, Hooker also emphasizes the communal feeling and musical freedom necessary to create great music, especially improvisation. If I had the chance to interview him, I'd ask him why he focuses on leadership. My guess is that being in control is the only way he can guarantee that his group has the right environment. I think he seeks control over the external forces that can wreak havoc with a performance so that the musicians and the audience will have the freedom to create. 'We're dealing with freedom', he said in one interview, 'but we're also dealing with an omnipresent center. I like to have a feeling where that center is. I can focus better, and I can provide a launching pad for the soloists'. A benevolent dictatorship I suppose - in the Ellingtonian tradition!
Hooker views the audience as an integral part of the music. In the liner notes to an album, he tells the story of an anthropologist in Cameroon who is asked to tell a story of her people. She decides to tell them the story of Hamlet, figuring that it depicts fairly universal concepts. However, she expected a passive audience, not an active one. The audience didn't just accept her story, they shaped it to match their own experiences and beliefs. Hamlet's father wasn't killed by his brother, he died because he did a poor job of leading his people. And marrying her dead husband's brother was a perfectly natural thing for Gertrude to do.
The point Hooker makes with this story is that a work of art doesn't belong to the artist, but is interpreted and reshaped by the audience - even if it's Shakespeare. He sees 'the cult of the artist' as interfering with 'an actual engagement with his or her craft'. He sees his music as a 'framework for all visions and experiences'. It welcomes 'your insight and your wisdom.' Or, if you're not feeling too insightful at the moment: 'People come to us with their set history and I can dig where they're coming from. As long as they're into it, that's fine. If they can be enlightened or inspired by it, that's even better.'
But what does the music sound like? Other than the critic-ese, I like this: 'Even though Hooker confronts the listener with a barrage of thunderous abstraction and relentless forward momentum, his music is not about destruction. It screams, as he says in his poetry, in 'free flowing birth.' Or the critic who likens his drums to Glenn Branca's or Lee Renaldo's guitar. Or Thurston Moore: 'It's music that's really based on the actuality of life. You have some structure to your life, but basically, you're living a fairly improvisational existence.'
Or maybe it will help you to know that Hooker has great interest in and knowledge of diverse religious, literary, and cultural traditions and often uses myths, stories, and history to provide improvisational direction to his colleagues. Or, for those preferring a more direct approach: 'I don't want to be some obscure thing up on a shelf. ... I want to see people get the ideas. ... I try to avoid the lulls because I try to get to the heart of the matter. That means dealing with a certain energy level and trying to see where you can take it.'
Meanwhile, Hooker has inspired some quite humorous comments from critics. 'Hooker leads his band like a lover guiding his partner towards the perfect simultaneous climax'; 'As adventurous types search for truly alternative music that can't be co-opted by The Man, free music seems to be where many are winding up'; Or Thurston Moore again: 'It's just now that people my age are discovering that important music was done by John Coltrane and everybody around him. I'm talking about young, middle-class, white, jerk-off kids like me.'
So if you're a jerk-off kid, you want to stick it to The Man, you seek the ultimate orgasm, or you're looking for a framework for your visions, catch the William Hooker trio. As Hooker puts it: 'Knowing that you're being heard, knowing that your call is being responded to, regardless of what the setting is, that's the whole point.'- Walt Davis

Blow Up #11, April 1999

"Il batterista William Hooker-noto per aver collaborato con David Murray, Thurston Moore, D.J. Spooky, Marc Ribot, Lee Ranaldo, DJ Olive, Billy Bang, William Parker...-propone in questo CD (registrato dal vivo al CBGB's di New York nell'Agosto 1994 e nel Dicembre 1995) una specie DI jazz cosmico in cui la massiccia propulsioned dei suoi tamburi fa da sfondo a un muro DI suono creato DA chitarre (due), synth e sax. I sette brani scorrono malamente fra sibili ed effetti DA guerre stellari senza riuscire ad approdare in nessun dove. L'effetto e lo stesso che puo fare Stallone nel grande schermo: tanti muscoli e tanta forza bruta a cui corrisponde una incapacita assoluta nel generare qualcosa in grado DI affascinare-o DI shockare-l'ascoltatore. L'unica sensazioned che emana DA questi solchi e una certa afflizioned per i kilowatt consumati alla faccia del risparmio energetico."-Etero Genio