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From the first notes from William Parker’s gut churning bass you know you are in for a treat. Raphe Malik assembled an all star band for the 1997 Fire In The Valley Festival and we are fortunate it was well-recorded for posterity. The whole disc constitutes a superb manifesto of state of the art jazz at the end of the Millennium. Malik’s deceptively simple themes, supported on a loose and limber rhythmic cushion by Parker and the greatly missed Denis Charles, provide a launch pad for the stratospheric improvisations of Malik’s trumpet and the fiery alto of Sabir Mateen. Several of the themes have a loping gait and feel reminiscent of the Art Ensemble of Chicago classic ‘Odwalla’ and make my scalp tingle. As good as Malik’s last recording was (The Short Form, also on Eremite and featuring the sadly departed Glenn Spearman) I find this disc even better. The individual components are marvellous but it is the group interplay which elevates this music into the top drawer.
Malik is a powerful trumpeter full of heraldic fanfares, excoriating runs and broad smears, in addition to his artful composition. Mateen first came to my notice as a voice deserving further recognition on Marc Edwards excellent ‘Red Sprites and Blue Jets’ on CIMP. He is now appearing on a gratifying number of recordings and his performance here gives ample testimony as to why this should be so. His bluesy cries, sinuous runs and electrifying forays into the higher registers played with iron control are all effortlessly integrated into the ebb and flow of the music. Denis Charles lays down a buoyant rhythm stoking the fires under the soloists. In his features he purposefully dissects the rhythm and examines each component motif before reassembling them into a coherent whole. Parker is never less than excellent whether underpinning the improvisations with his rock solid walking or calling down the stars with his multiphonic arco solos.
There are telling touches throughout with themes gently restated behind soloists to ground their extemporisations, eventually leading to the horns spiralling heavenwards as on ‘Ditchweed’. Or on ‘GG’ where Mateen plays a lick in his solo which is instantly picked up by Malik who runs it down with glee. Or ‘3X Twice’ where Mateen’s stratospheric whistling brings a keening high register run from Malik in return. The only longeur is during the lengthy bass solo on ‘The Gift’ where Parker is pursuing different ideas in different registers, which doesn’t translate well to disc for me. That is a minor blemish on one of the year’s best recordings. Listen for yourself.
Tracks: Dominate Predicate; The Gift; Ditchweed; 3X Twice; Ghost Dance; GG. Total time: 65.51
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.