For some, Interstellar Space
was the end of John Coltraneand for others, just the beginning. As many people dislike Rashied Ali for being Trane's last drummer as like him for that same reason. Indisputable though is that Interstellar Space
began the examination of new possibilities for the duet format, apart from the typical piano/bass example. Ali continued to explore this arrangement after the death of his mentor on albums like Duo Exchange
with late saxophonist Frank Lowe and in his current duo with altoist Sonny Fortune (in residency at Sweet Rhythm this month). Ayler Records, continuing a spate of exciting archival live albums, has released another chapter in Ali's saxophone duet history, this time as a double disc set with, sadly, another late player, tenor Arthur Rhames.
The performance was recorded in 1981 at the Willisau Jazz Festival. Given Rhames' relative obscurity, the first disc begins with Rashied Ali narrating liner notes over a 17-minute exposition by himself and Rhames. The rest of the set consists of material by Coltrane including "Mr. PC," "Giant Steps," "Impressions" and even a brief reading of most of A Love Supreme (all interesting choices as they all predate Ali joining Coltrane's group). The Eckstine standard "I Want to Talk About You," Miles' "Tune Up" and four pieces ostensibly improvised by Rhames and Ali are thrown in for good measure.
Unlike Interstellar Space
, where Ali's desperate attempts to hang on are part of the charm, The Dynamic Duo
presents an Ali almost fifteen years older and playing with a saxophonist near his age when he was recording with Coltrane. Ali may have matured, but never at the expense of the muscular aggressive style that makes him a perfect foil for horn players. Despite being viewed as a "free" drummer, players like Trane, Lowe, Rhames or Fortune can rely on him to follow the flow of their ideas as carefully as they do and surprise with his empathetic support.
The sound reproduction is quite good, helped by the two very distinct ranges of the instruments involved (Rhames does also contribute some piano to the set). What makes this music particularly appealing is the presentation of mostly actual tunes, a rare opportunity to focus on the melody and rhythm of jazz without the softening effect of harmony and counterpoint. Rhames can just blow (and does, furiously, from the 23-minute "Mr. PC" to the end) and Ali can react solely to him, creating a more visceral and monolithic sound.
The medley style of the set makes one marvel not only at Rhames' remarkable facility and tone, even at high speeds, but at both musicians' stamina. Even the slower numbers do not lack for vitality, the duo format leaving no room to hide behind lush chords. Rhames may no longer be with us, but rest assured that Ali has not come close to finishing what he started.
Personnel: Rashied Ali: drums, vocals; Arthur Rhames, tenor saxophone, piano.