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Interviews

Rashied Ali

By Published: March 31, 2003

AAJ: With your group Prima Materia, you've recorded recreations of both Albert Ayler's Bells and John Coltrane's Meditations. Were these records an attempt to create a kind of avant-garde jazz repertory?

RA: It's not really the importance of the compositions as it is the importance of the composer. Those cats, man- Albert Ayler to me was a major, major, major force in the music; I don't care what you name it. He was just a very different saxophonist, and he was respected by great saxophone players like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane and people like that.

And I got a chance to play with [Albert], and he was an incredible musician, and he played stuff sometimes that I couldn't even deal with. But after listening to him for awhile, I could hear where he was coming from.

Albert Ayler was a very creative musician, and everybody realized that, and the contribution that he made, it's too bad that's it's going unsung like it is. I mean nobody knows who Albert Ayler is. You can ask people who've listened to jazz forever, you ask them about Albert Ayler, and they go, 'Who?'

So, that's what's missing. And so, I did [Prima Materia's Bells] because I wanted people to hear Albert's music. Maybe that record would get them to go out and buy an Albert Ayler record, you know what I mean? That record doesn't get out that much anyway, but if they would hear that then they would go, 'Damn, I wonder what the original cat sounds like?'

So, we did that in remembrance of Albert, and we also did two records in remembrance of Coltrane. And that's what Prima Materia was about. We was going to do one for Eric Dolphy as well, but we haven't got to that one yet. But we do have one coming out which I call Configurations, which is Coltrane's music from his album Stellar Regions- 'Configurations' is one of the tunes on Stellar Regions. I finished that last year, and it should be coming out this year. We call that Configurations, and I've got two basses on there, Wilber Morris and Joe Gallant; Allan Chase is playing alto; Louie Belogenis is playing tenor, and Greg Murphy on piano.

AAJ: Could you talk about the history and future of Survival Studios/Records [Ali's personal studio and label]?

RA: Well, this is the studio here. And the label 'we've got some stuff coming out. Actually, Configurations is coming out on Survival as well as Cutting Corners, which is another CD that I did down here with a group that I played the Vision Festival with in 1999: Greg Tardy's playing tenor, James Hurt is the pianist, and Omer Avital's playing bass.

...I've never really recorded on my own, as a leader, with a major record company in the thirty, forty years that I've been working for some reason. With other bands I've played on major record companies, but as a leader, playing my own music and playing with my own band, I never did it with a major company. I don't know if that's because we never agreed on things- I had chances, but it didn't work out

So I developed Survival Records, and most of my stuff has been done on my own label. And I'm glad I did it now because it really works out better for me because I'm building up a catalog and the whole thing, and I've got two more records coming out around the spring, maybe in the summer they'll be coming out: Configurations and Cutting Corners, which I feel like is really good.

And this last one I did, No One In Particular [featuring Ravi Coltrane on tenor and Matthew Garrison, son of Ali's late associate Jimmy Garrison, on bass]... It was really cool because those kids ' well, they're not kids anymore; Ravi will be ... thirty-something years old; Matthew's in his early thirties.

But I knew them when they were inside their mothers! They didn't know me, but I knew them. And I used to see Alice, she used to make sessions with this boy in her, and then when they were born, they were little babies, and I seen them as little babies until I guess Ravi was about six or seven or eight when he moved out to California.

But Matthew, I watched him because he lived right around the corner with his mother, Roberta, and Jimmy. When he died, she stayed there I guess before she moved to Italy with him. He was like about eight or nine or ten, and she moved him to Italy, and I didn't see him no more until he came here to go to school at Berklee.

And then Ravi, I was kind of seeing him because I was making trips out to California ' my father's out there ' plus I was doing gigs with Alice sometimes, and that's how I met Ravi...

So, you know, the rest is history. I sort of got [Ravi] to come here to New York. He came here, and he stayed with us for a little while, and he got himself together. And then I met Matthew through some kid named Gene Shimosato who plays guitar ' he's a good guitarist. [Gene] was teaching, and he was going to Berklee at the same time Matt was going there. He came over, and Matt goes, 'Oh, that's Rashied Ali's house!' and boom, boom, boom... Then I got those cats together, man.

So I took them, and I had this band with Ravi and Matt and Gene and Greg [Murphy]. We went to Europe; we were together a couple of years. I made a few tapes, and I finally got this record out.

And it's a gas to play with those cats, being they're the sons of some great musicians that I respected a lot. And Matthew [laughs], Matthew is a motherfuckin' hell of a bassist, man! Whoo! He plays the shit out of that electric bass! ... I don't know if he ever wanted to play acoustic, but if he ever did, it wouldn't make no difference.

He's an incredible bassist, and Ravi is a very great young saxophonist with all the time in the world to develop ... You know, I did a lot of stuff with Ravi. We did some stuff with Tisziji Munoz [There should be a '~' mark over the 'n.'], and every time we get together we play. So, he's an incredible player.



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