Life After Rashied: Live at the Woodstock Playhouse 1965; Why Not?; Eddie Jefferson at Ali's Alley; Configurations--The Music of John Coltrane; Mystic Journey
Rashied Ali Quintet
Rashied Ali with Prima Materia
Before his death in August 2009, Rashied Ali was best known for his role as Coltrane's last drummer, replacing Elvin Jones of the classic quartet. Ali led Coltrane in a new direction with the percussive style he created, labeled "multi-directionalism." The term is prone to misunderstanding and a plethora of interpretationswhich is a good part of its strength: since it can't be put into words, it forces musical interpretation that, in turn, forces music forward. The phenomenon unfolds on five new releases, two from the '60s that feature Ali in quartets, one from 1976 with his quintet backing vocalist Eddie Jefferson and one, from 2009, on which he leads the group Prima Materia. Capping these off is Azar Lawrence's newest album dedicated to and featuring Ali in what is presumably his last recording. These discs confirm Ali's achievement before and beyond his service with Coltrane and cement a legacy. In the year after Ali's passing, we are privileged to have such a spate of indications of his multifaceted talent.
Pianist Burton Greene's Live at the Woodstock Playhouse 1965 begins with a cool, melancholy waltz, "Tree Theme II," almost along the lines of a Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond effort like "Take Five." This quickly changes as alto saxophonist Marion Brown embarks on a hard-edged modal adventure, with Greene laying down darker chords. This is early Ali, sounding much like the guy he ousted, Elvin Jones. Bassist Reggie Johnson plucks double stops quietly in the background and Greene's solo is crossed with impressionist classical tones, the theme returning with a hint of baroque polyphony. "Cluster Quartet II," the second track, draws more from post-bop proper, but Greene punches down some clusters after the head. Then Ali breaks form, unleashing a free-tempo excursion, carried ferociously forward in the half-hour final track, "Like It Is." This is the big bang of multi-directionalism.
Why Not?, though Marion Brown's album, is about interactive dynamics. It is airy, but by no means tepid. Ali rips on his solos here; elsewhere he explores space as Brown, bassist Sirone and pianist Stanley Cowell explore the temporal dimension. This is an album about time, crosscurrents of speed and anticipation and patience and quietude, astir. Cowell is a particular standout. With wide ranging dynamics, he touches on dissonance yet brings it back into the clear of the lyrical. This is unusual for Brown, known for his frenetics first found on Coltrane's Ascension (Impulse!, 1965). He is as likely to hint at ballads with standard changes as to race up and down the chromatic scale. The band plays subtly against and in contrast with one another rather than chase the same game in cacophony.
The release with Eddie Jefferson At Ali's Alley is, as a Jefferson album can only be, in some ways a delight. Ali himself shows he can do bop and swing as well as anything or anyone and the rest of the quintet (Jimmy Vass and Marvin Blackman, saxophones; Marsha Frazier, piano; Benny Wilson, bass) is excellent. Jefferson treads through such favorites as "Now's the Time" and "So What." However, he seems a little tired on this 1976 live recording, taken from Ali's own club. It is only on the ballads, his signature number "Body and Soul" and "Moody's Mood for Love," the hit for King Pleasure, that he comes fully to life and his voice soarsbut these are priceless moments and must be heard or heard again.
Ali's Configurations is a drier affair, but it does yield warmth. Ali made this album (a retread of a posthumously released recording he did with Coltrane in 1967, Stellar Regions) because he felt he could improve on the first effort with 40 years hindsight. In many ways he was right. Ali engages Prima Materia as a nexus to a plexus. The title is apt: Prima Materia configure and work out the permutations of Ali's drumming style. As substitute for Coltrane, tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis merits most scrutiny. Despite all appearances, Belogenis is not a passion player in the mode of Coltrane. Sometimes deadpan, sometimes humorous or even dead serious, he seems like a swing stylist gone wild, but all his moves are cerebral and rational. He can create Coltrane-esque effects, but this happens where it is called for, propelled by Ali's statements, which are as impeccable as when he started out. Allan Chase, on alto and soprano, has the bite.
Tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence's Mystic Journey charts a spiritual quest. Lawrence steers a sextet of Eddie Henderson (trumpet and flugelhorn), Gerald Hayes (alto sax), Benito Gonzalez (piano), Essiet Essiet (bass) and Ali adeptly through the traditions of hard modal and hard bop, with a turn or two to bossa nova. The ride is so smooth it is easy to overlook the complex activity at play. Lawrence varies his attacks on his instrument like a good baseball hurler varies his pitches. Now he sideslips, now he chops up the theme like ice. He engages in odd-interval arpeggios, controlled over-blowing and harmonics. More to the point, he knows when to pitch which pitch. This is never a matter of showing off effects, but a seamless concatenation of approaches that approximate, in a new context, Ali's multi-directionality. Lawrence is another Coltrane disciple, but not just another onean outstanding one.
Tracks and Personnel
Live at the Woodstock Playhouse 1965
Tracks: Tree Theme II; Cluster Quartet II; Like It Is.
Personnel: Burton Greene: piano; Rashied Ali: drums; Marion Brown: alto saxophone; Reggie Johnson: bass.
Tracks: La Sorrella; Fortunato; Why Not?; Homecoming.
Personnel: Marion Brown: alto saxophone; Stanley Cowell: piano; Norris "Sirone" Jones: bass; Rashied Ali: drums.
Eddie Jefferson at Ali's Alley
Tracks: Now's the Time; Pennies from Heaven; So What; Bless My Soul; Keep Walkin'; Trane's Blues; A Night in Tunisia; Body and Soul; Billie's Bounce; Moody's Mood for Love.
Personnel: Rashied Ali: drums; Eddie Jefferson: voice; Jimmy Vass: saxophone; Marvin Blackman: saxophone; Marsha Frazier: piano; Benny Wilson: bass.
ConfigurationsThe Music of John Coltrane
Tracks: Configuration; Stellar Regions; Leo; Iris; Seraphic Light; Tranesonic; Jimmy's Mode; Sun Star; Stellar Regions.
Personnel: Rashied Ali: drums; Louie Belogenis: saxophone; Allan Chase: saxophone; Greg Murphy: piano; Wilbur Morris: bass; Joe Gallant: bass (track 9 only).
Tracks: Mystic Journey; Summer Solstice; Quest; Walk Spirit, Talk Sprit; Say It OVer Again; Adrees; Journey's End; Starting Point.
Personnel: Azar Lawrence: tenor and soprano saxophones; Eddie Henderson: trumpet and flugelhorn; Gerald Hayes: alto saxophone; Benito Gonzalez: piano; Essiet Essiet: bass; Rashied Ali: drums.