In the annals of free jazz drumming names like Sunny Murray, Andrew Cyrille and Milford Graves often percolate to the top of the lists as the progenitors of the tradition. Equally important, if sometimes overshadowed is Charles Moffett, who as a member of Ornette Coleman’s trio with David Izenzon completed one of the most inspiring improvising collectives of the 60s. His achievements were by no means limited to this seminal group and his career stretched well into the decade of the 90s before his untimely passing. What does this capsule reflection on Moffett have to do with the disc at hand by Abdullah’s Diaspora? - Actually a great deal. This is not your typical Spirit Room session (if there even is such a thing), in fact this isn’t your routine ‘free jazz’ date either. At its fundamental root this is the product of five men whose lives have been shaped and sustained by the legacy of a sixth- the indomitable Charles Moffett.
Paying praise on this disc is an incredible group comprised of some of the most vibrant voices in creative improvised music. Abdullah convened them not only to pay homage, but also to pour their individual interests into the pool and come up with a fresh nectar of sustaining musical expression. In this respect he largely succeeds building a variegated musical melange that bespeaks the group’s chosen name. The opening “Amanpondo” is built on a slippery calypso beat and segues through a succession of stellar solo statements by each of the players. Cody Moffett, Charles son, holds court on his father’s metal drum kit and builds a stentorian rhythmic presence that fit’s the piece’s ‘island flavor’ perfectly. “Brazil One” shifts the focus to another set of tropical sounds with a beautifully lyric prelude. The piece proper propelled again by Cody’s sensitive drumming drifts along with Abdullah’s robust vocal chant floating on top. Ward eventually moves to the front for a blissful melodic improvisation.
With “Deja’s View” the group takes a totally unexpected turn into hot buttered soul. The gently syncopated beat, mellifluous flute, muted brass and bulbous electric bass that round out the piece would not be out of place on Issac Hayes’ Shaft soundtrack. “Song of the Holy Warrior” builds up momentum rapidly from a rhythmic vamp based in Moffett’s brisk prefatory solo, before Abdullah, Ward and Masujaa spar in a spiraling landslide of cyclonic phrasings. Abdullah takes a well-meaning, but somewhat raspy singing turn on the reading of “La Vie En Rose,” a tune powered largely by Masujaa’s iridescent chording. On “Song of Love” Ward’s shares the spotlight with Abdullah weaving a beautiful spell on dulcet alto that bookends his partner’s sweetly muted brass. Blake gets his chance too, on “I’ll Be Seeing You” his muscular strums and plucks take center stage.
Tributes, particularly musical ones, can be a tricky enterprise and reconciling a reverence for the dedicatee with one’s own creative vision is often a delicate balance. Abdullah and his bandmates attain such a harmony on this disc juggling their love for Moffett with their own restlessly creative energies to produce a testament of moving depth and passion.
Tracks:Amanpondo/ Brazil One/ Song of the Force/ Deja’s View/ Song of the Holy Warrior/ La Vie En Rose/ Song of Love/ I’ll Be Seeing You/ Song of the Force.
Ahmed Abdullah- trumpet, flugelhorn, voice; Carlos Ward- flute, alto saxophone; Masujaa- guitar; Alex Blake- bass, electric bass; Cody Moffett- drums.