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Rakalam Bob Moses: Song of the Free Will

Dave Wayne By

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Though Rakalam Bob Moses is known primarily for his uncanny and profound drumming skills, few realize that he has forged a unique and highly personal piano style in parallel with his efforts as a percussionist, composer and bandleader. Few remember his wonderful band Compost with that other ineffable drummer / pianist, Jack DeJohnette. Compost recorded two funky and fresh albums—Take Off Your Body (CBS Records, 1972) and Life Is Round (CBS Records, 1973)—with Ra Kalam and DeJohnette switching off on drums, keys, and vibes; backed by bassist Jack Gregg, saxophonist Harold Vick, and percussionist Jumma Santos. One got a glimpse of Ra Kalam's piano on his first solo album, Bittersuite in the Ozone (Mozown Records, 1979), but there have been relatively few recordings of his piano playing since then. Song of the Free Will not only rectifies the dearth of Moses' piano recordings, it delves deeply into the legendary musician's fascinating sound world: a world in which all sorts of jazz and the traditional musics of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and India meld into a seamless whole.

At the core of Song of the Free Will is the trio of Ra Kalam, John Lockwood, and Sadhu Bhav Tony Falco. Though this is not really a "free jazz" album, there is a loose, organic and very spontaneous feel to their interactions throughout. Falco's drumming is busy yet light, lending an appealing transparency to the proceedings. Largely eschewing the typical head-solos-head jazz structure, the horns often enter halfway through these tracks. This is another signature component to Ra Kalam's individualistic approach. The nature of the music changes from track-to-track. There are ethnic-inspired proto-funky groove pieces, free-ish improvisations, and some out-and-out jazz tunes. "Skies of Copenhagen" is a free-ish rubato piece replete with arco bass, fluttering flutes, and sizzling cymbals. Starting with a lengthy drums / piano duet, "Nether World Emanations," traverses similar ground, growing darker as Ra Kalam probes the piano's interior. Vivek Patel's trumpet comes in out of nowhere, and the piece ends on oddly cheery note.

Ra Kalam's long-standing interest in the music of other cultures comes to the fore on "Pan Peace," "Liquid Jesus," and "Bismillah." On "Pan Peace," Ra Kalam's steel pans set the pace as Stan Strickland's voice intones a sweet, Gospel-tinged melody. Loping Middle Eastern percussion provides a shifting backdrop to "Liquid Jesus," a rather complex composition that evokes the sound and feel of Keith Jarrett's work with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. That said, Ra Kalam's piano playing bears no resemblance to Jarrett's, or anyone else's for that matter. Patel's trumpet solo here benefits from Strickland's bass clarinet side commentary. The spooky, droning "Bismillah" could be the soundtrack for a bizarre adventure in the Sahara Desert.

Song of the Free Will also offers a clutch of brighter, more palpably jazz-derived pieces. The title track and "Pollack Springs" both skitter along at breakneck tempos like a couple of lost Ornette Coleman pieces. "Rebazar" is a muscular waltz of the sort that makes one think of McCoy Tyner's early work as a leader. Ra Kalam especially enjoys writing pieces in an indeterminate tempo; one that's not quite rubato and not quite a ballad. This is where Falco and Lockwood really shine. Their interaction on the rhapsodic "Christ Love," "Compassion," and "Innocence" reflects their highly developed musical understanding. Throughout Song of the Free Will, there's a loose, carefree feeling to Ra Kalam's piano playing, as well as his music as a whole, that makes listening to it a truly uplifting experience.

Track Listing: Skies of Copenhagen; Nether World Emanations; Deep Ground Tree Sound; Pan Peace; Liquid Jesus; Song of the Free Will; Song of the Free Will (Epilog); Christ Love; Compassion; Innocence; We Shall Overcome; Rebazar; Bismillah; Pollack Springs.

Personnel: Ra Kalam: piano, djembe, log drum, pans, bass, vocal, sonic beds; Sadhu Bhav Tony Falco: drums; John Lockwood: bass; Stan Strickland: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute, bass flute, vocals; Vivek Patel: trumpet; Mark Zaleski: alto saxophone.

Title: Song of the Free Will | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced

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