When [Ahmed] released its debut album, Super Majnoon (Otoroku), in 2019, it provided not only an opportunity to revisit the under-heralded work of pathbreaking bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik. It also offered a bewildering, sometimes intoxicating stew of improvisation that relied equally on minimalist repetition and deeply-rooted grooves. This intrepid team of European musicians, consisting of saxophonist Seymour Wright, pianist Pat Thomas, bassist Joel Grip and drummer Antonin Gerbal, envisioned new ways of continuing Abdul-Malik's quest to find shared connections between jazz and idioms from Africa and the Middle East (hence the "East Meets West" subtitle of the album). [Ahmed]'s follow-up takes the group's approach in an even more aggressive direction, with additional relentless energy and intensified rhythmic fervor.
On this live recording from late in 2019 at London's Cafe OTO, [Ahmed] unleashes its fury right from the outset, rarely letting up in the course of a 40-minute extrapolation of Abdul-Malik's "Nights on Saturn," a piece found on The Music of Ahmed Abdul-Malik (New Jazz, 1961). With an infectious bouncing rhythm established by Grip and Gerbal, who are in superb form throughout, Wright soon enters with plaintive cries that echo the mood of the original, while Thomas teases out a variety of ideas. But it only takes a couple minutes for Thomas to become progressively animated, with pummeling patterns of chords that spur recurring single or dual-note attacks from Wright, as Grip and Gerbal's churning momentum somehow keeps things centered. At that point any question of melodic structure largely fades, as Wright's earnest assaults on the timbre and texture of his instrument continue alongside Thomas' fragmented splinterings. Only the briefest moments of respite emerge; the overall delivery is fierce and tenacious from beginning to end.
The music does have a hypnotic appeal, particularly when all four musicians succumb fully to the piece's over-the-top mania. Even the most hair-raising moments of Super Majnoon don't reach the volcanic amplitude on display here. The live setting enhances the effect, and the crowd's enthusiastic responses are well-captured throughout the recording. While some listeners may desire a bit more dynamic contrast, or occasionally tire of the essentially iterative quality of the music, there is a fascinating aspect to hearing Wright and Thomas explore and interrogate the figures they conjureat times seemingly trying to beat them into submissionwhile seeking even more ecstatic heights. For its sheer cathartic power, Nights on Saturn is indeed an accomplishment.
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