The lasting influence of Sun Ra is infinite and its always a pleasure to hear testimony from the relatively small number of his regular sidemen who are now leading their own groups. The joy is particularly palatable in the case of Abdullah whose bright brassy trumpet powered the Arkestra brass-section on their cosmic flights of fancy for many years. Ahmed is one of those musicians who effectively shaped the lessons he learned from Ra during his stint with the band to his own devices coming up with a truly original voice both on his instrument and in his compositional approach. His NAM quartet is built around the common denominator of Harding whose shared associations with the musicians originally brought the group together. The quartet elects a diverse songbook of tunes for the date that draw both on jazz traditions and on South African musical styles which have long been a source of erudition for Abdullah.
“Magwalandini” begins with a repeating bass riff, shuffling drums and unison horns in a that style strangely reminiscent of Tommy Peltier’s Jazz Corps (how’s that for an obscure reference). Harding’s baritone really digs in during his solo, tearing up huge strips of melody that sound all the more lusty on the deep horn, and the tune careens along at a spirited clip. It’s a relative rarity to hear some play the baritone with the level of gutsy bravado that Harding insists upon whenever he places his reed to his lips. “Blues for Barbara Jean” rings true to its name and Harding’s heated honks caress with a rugged tenderness. Abdullah slips a mute into his horn and vocalizes a chain of indigo slurs and shrill phrases during his own tenure as the lead voice. The Ra tune “Sketch,” affords more opportunity for galloping solos particularly again from Harding whose fierce whinnying lines blast forth from the bell of his sax with harrowing alacrity. “Serenade to Marion Brown,” originally penned by Gunter Hampel, demonstrates the importance of Kamaguchi’s presence and it is his repeating bass riff that anchors the tune in a meditative mood. The foursome’s reading of “Naima” is positively sumptuous and hearing the reverent melody played on baritone and trumpet offers a new twist to the time-honored tune. “Song of Tenderness” is waltz-like in construction with Abdullah again on mute and Harding on bass clarinet. All four players come together in a relaxed swing that is beautiful in its simplicity. An exciting pulse fires up the two part concluding piece and takes the disc out on a resounding high note. Another resplendent feather in the cap for CIMP.
Track Listing: Magwalandini, Blues for Barbara Jean, Sketch, Serenade for Marion Brown, Naima, Song of Tenderness, Song of Time (for Fred Hopkins)/Shaka Zulu.
Recorded at The Spirit Room, Rossie New York, January 18 & 19, 1999.
Available through Cadence/NorthCountry Distributors (www.cadencebuilding.com)
Personnel: Ahmed Abdullah- trumpet, Alex Harding- baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, Masa Kamaguchi- double bass, Jimmy Weinstein- drums.