On March 29, 2006, percussionist Don Alias passed away at the age of 66. Alias had a long and illustrious career, playing with Miles, Nina Simone, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Mongo Santamaria and others. He's also known for his work with the seminal group Stone Alliance, whose early core included Alias, saxophonist Steve Grossman and bassist Gene Perla.
Three new CD releases showcase Alias at his best. Live in Buenos Aires is a live recording from Stone Alliance's 1977 tour through Europe and South America and captures the group's energy and obvious enjoyment in playing. While their music is rightly associated with Weather Report and other fusion bands of that period, Stone Alliance has a special magic; the three musicians have a seamless interaction and eerie telepathy that only comes from years of playing together. The CD features four original compositions by Alias, including the wonderful "Zulu Stomp," which spotlights Perla's melodic basswork, Alias' forceful drumming and Grossman's distinctive, fiery sax.
Steve Grossman's The Bible finds Grossman, Alias and Perla joined by Jan Hammer on electric piano and Moog synthesizer. Originally released in 1974 (as Some Shapes to Come), this is considered by many to be a classic recording of the 70s and it's easy to see why; Hammer's piano and Moog add another layer of richness and possibility to Stone Alliance's distinctive sound and all the musicians are 100% present. Highlights include the short but sweet "WBAI," an incredible jam full of boiling rhythms and urgency, with Grossman's sax wailing off into the stratosphere. "Haresah" features amazing conga playing by Alias, with Grossman's soprano sax fluid and wistful. There's also another version of Alias' "Zulu Stomp," Hammer's input expanding the song into other dimensions.
Brazil, recorded in 1977, is a veritable feast of music. Trumpeter Marcio Montarroyos is a natural match for Stone Alliance; a classically trained Brazilian musician, he's a master of integrating cultures and styles and Brazil is a wonderful journey through different sensibilities. Another classic Stone Alliance recording, Brazil is important for its unique collaboration between Brazilian and American musicians, a crossover record that has stood the test of time. The songs vary between the traditional Brazilian aesthetic and 70s fusion, allowing all the musicians to showcase what they're best at and at the same time stretch in new directions. Alias is joined by several other percussionists, but his spirit and innate musicality shine throughout Brazil and indeed throughout hundreds of recordings in the past decades. He'll be missed.
Tracks and Personnel
Stone Alliance: Live in Buenos Aires
Tracks: New York Bossa; In It; Miss T; Zulu Stomp; Taurus People; King Tut; Vaya Mulatto; Congo Solo.
Personnel: Steve Grossman: tenor saxophone; Gene Perla; electric bass; Don Alias: drums, congas.
Steve Grossman: The Bible
Tracks: WBAI; Haresah; Zulu Stomp; Extemporaneous Combusion; Alodian Mode; Pressure Point; The Sixth Sense.
Personnel: Steve Grossman: soprano and tenor saxophone; Gene Perla: electric and acoustic bass; Don Alias: bongos, conga, drums, bells; Jan Hammer: electric piano, Moog synthesizer.
Marcio Montarroyos Featuring Stone Alliance: Brazil
Tracks: Hey Bicho, Vamos Vessa; Risa; Roua Boa Hora; Libra Rising; Menina Ilza; The Greeting; On the Foot Peg; A Child is Born.
Personnel: Steve Grossman: soprano and tenor saxophones, acoustic piano; Gene Perla: bass, keyboards; Don Alias: drums, congas, guitar, voice, and percussion; Marcio Montarroyos: trumpet, flugelhorn, mellophone, piano, Moog synthesizer, voice, and percussion; Hermeto Pascoal: piano, flute; Erasto de Holanda Vasconcelos: percussion, surdo, voice, bell; David Sion: percussion; Dom Bira: congas, bell.