East New York Ensemble de Music: At The Helm (2004)
The puckish humor evident in the band's name doesn't so much come across in the music (a la Breuker, Carla Bley, et al.) as it does in their kitchen sink approach to musical eclecticism. The Ensemble is actually a collaboration between Abdurahman and vibraharpist and composer Ameen Nuraldeen. Nuraldeen's compositions deftly mix the somewhat loopy, exotica-derived sounds one might find on Sun Ra's early recordings with an authoritative, groove-oriented, early-'70s Afro-modal jazz sensibility. Prominently odd amongst the more subtly odd moments on At The Helm is the cover of Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower"a minor hit of sorts amongst '70s jazz fans which daringly opens with an extended improvisation on a bizarre-sounding non-tempered Korean reed instrument (possibly a senapbut I am just guessing). This is not done merely for exotic effect; Abdurahman plays the untamed, unnamed instrument with the same soul and passion he displays on his main axe.
Why he wasn't better known, I will never knowhis technique, sound and intonation are distinctive and superb throughout. Nuraldeen is a forceful, percussive player who revels in the vibraphone's bright bell-like tones while eschewing the clanky, clangy sounds that many players of this ilk fall prey to.
The supporting playersall even more obscure than the leadersprovide an organic propulsive rhythmic base throughout. Another pleasant surprise is is the very crisp sound qualityunusual for Folkways recordings.
At The Helm presents us with a convincing fusion of jazz, African, Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic musics in which the immediacy and power of jazz is never diluted by the ethnic influences, and vice versa.
Track Listing: Mevlana; Ti - Ti; Sun Flower; Bent-El-Jerusalem
Personnel: Bilal Abdurahman - soprano saxophone, Korean reed; Ameen Nuraldeen - vibraphone; Qasim Ubaindullah - drums; James Smith - bass; Jay Rose - Turkish drum; Bobby Harvey - conga drums; Rahkiah Abdurahman - African twin-gong
Record Label: Ikef Records
Style: Modern Jazz