A good drummer makes any ensemble sound better, and the packed schedules of Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake testify to the esteem in which they’re held by fellow musicians around the globe. Zerang’s split-second reactions and rapid-fire embellishments have challenged improvisers like Swedish pianist Sten Sandell, English saxophonist John Butcher, and Dutch sound poet Jaap Blonk to outdo themselves. Bassist-producer Bill Laswell, free-jazz patriarch Pharoah Sanders, Israeli-born reedist Assif Tsahar, and many others have repeatedly called upon Drake’s ability to locate a steady pulse in the midst of abstraction–or, conversely, to add multiple levels of complexity to the deepest grooves. But Drake and Zerang never sound better than when they play together, a fact not lost on saxophonists Fred Anderson, Ken Vandermark, and Peter Brotzmann, who’ve all recruited them to power high-energy double-drummer blowouts; every year since 1990, no matter how busy they might be, the two men have made time to greet the winter solstice by playing duo concerts at a dancers’ rehearsal studio in Link’s Hall. Drake and Zerang typically open their ritualistic predawn performances by tapping out solemn tattoos on simple Mesopotamian frame drums while weaving through the candlelit studio, its floor strewn with drums, shakers, bells, and gongs from all over the world. Then they mix and match cyclical rhythms on some of those other instruments–West African djembe, Middle Eastern dumbek, Indian tablas–before settling behind two Western trap kits to bring the music to a surging climax as morning light streams through the windows. Last year Zerang and Drake put on a ten-day extravaganza that was supposed to bring the series to a close, but apparently they couldn’t bring themselves to quit such a good thing; this time they’ll play three concerts on consecutive mornings. Advance tickets are strongly recommended, and can be bought through Bookworks, 3444 N. Clark; 773-871-5318. Saturday through Monday, December 22 through 24, 6 AM, Link’s Hall Studio, 3435 N. Sheffield; 773-281-0824.

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