Whether powering the Brotzmann Chicago Tentet as that free-jazz jumbo jet gets airborne or entangling themselves in long, loose saxophone lines as two-thirds of a trio with tenor hero Fred Anderson, percussionists Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang have spent the last decade forging an extraordinary understanding of one another–the sort of working friendship in which music has created a deeper kind of communication than conversation ever could. Zerang and Drake have released only one album as a duo, the wondrous Ask the Sun (Okka Disk) in 1996–a great studio version of their suite dedicated to Edward Blackwell has been sitting in the can for a few years now. But throughout the 90s their annual winter solstice percussion concerts have just about made up for the shortage of recorded material: warm, celebratory, and reflective, they’ve become something of a pilgrimage point, even drawing folks who don’t listen to Drake or Zerang in any other setting. Sometimes the duo plays worked-out pieces, engaging in impossible tandem rhythms on Middle Eastern dumbek and African djembe; sometimes they do without a score, trading solos on trap sets or roving around makeshift percussion stations loaded with bells, scrapers, gongs, and shakers like famished guests at a buffet. Interest in the event has grown steadily, so that what was once a single set now consists of four concerts spread out over a weekend: Saturday at sunset and after dark, and Sunday at dawn and sunset. This year the late show on Saturday is a trio set with flutist Nikki Mitchell featuring a shadow-puppet prelude, The Black Bird, by Redmoon Theater founder Blair Thomas, but the dawn concert has always been my favorite. Advance tickets are required, and can be bought through Bookworks; call 773-871-5318. If you’ve missed the solstice celebrations in the past, now’s the time: the duo plans to close out the series next winter. Saturday, 4 PM and 8 PM, and Sunday, 6:30 AM and 4 PM, Link’s Hall Studio, 3435 N. Sheffield; 773-281-0824. John Corbett

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.