Sonny Fortune and Rashied Ali
An Die Musik
November 19, 2005
The small sign on the column of the entrance announced the performance of "Sonny Fortune and Rashied Ali; SOLD OUT . Some anxious audience members gathered at the bottom of the old stone stairs to the raised entrance, smoking and chattering about musical memories in the brisk air from the harbor. Other people congregated in the music store in the back of the first floor townhouse, seeking additions to already well stocked collections. Some chose to sit comfortably in the old parlor, casually sipping wine from the bar and appreciating the photographs displayed in the gallery. It was, in short, a perfect, and somewhat cozy, autumn evening on the Saturday before Thanksgiving at An Die Musik in Baltimore, Maryland.
I admit that, although well familiar with both artists in their respective careers, I did not know what to expect when the altoist and drummer were together. Each is well known for an intense means of creative expression, while perhaps approached from a different perspective. Fortune is greatly influenced by Coltrane and, among the many bands in which is has been featured in his almost forty year career, played extensively in the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, as well as the Coltrane Legacy Band in the late '80s. Of course, Ali is perhaps best known for beginning his career with Coltrane; the six duo performances with Coltrane on 1967's "Interstellar Space is definitive. Coltrane thus serves as the binding agent for the artists' performance perspectives and foreshadowed, and perhaps shadowed, the evening.
Fortune, attired in black and with his oft-seen vest, began by clearly delineating the melody of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale. It was not a characteristically sweetened statement usually associated with Porter, but a somewhat caustic acknowledgement of the true meaning of the composition. The lyrics were stated in my head - "Love for sale. Appetizing young love for sale. Suddenly and quickly, Ali burst in, making sure to lead the performance into an expressionistic exploration of love bought and sold.
When my overstuffed easy chair began to shake, I thought that the foot of a restless audience member had found a means of expression. With my feet on the floor, however, I noticed that the tattered floor boards were also vibrating. Indeed, the entire room was shaking. The propulsive force of drummer Rashied Ali is powerful, and one feels physically connected to such a performance when sitting in the small second floor performance space.
After fifteen minutes of continual delivery and seemingly exhausting performances, I thought that the piece would surely conclude shortly. It did not. Fortune continued his display of arpeggiated jumps, swirling lines and musical comments directed to the drums. At times, he utilized circular breathing so as not to interrupt the almost brutal flow of ideas, taking care to ensure that the notes could be expressed in conjunction with the ideas. Ali was a tireless partner. Although the drum set was unexpectedly small, I can not imagine a more productive and creative use of the snare, bass drum and several toms. He struck, crackled, massaged and beat the drum heads, illustrating his historical role in developing the drums from a limited time keeping measure to a participating melodic band member.
The exchanges were seemingly endless. Every so often, Fortune would return to a brief burst of melody: "If you want the thrill of love, I've been though the mill of love. Then he was off again in a blistering frenzy. The entire "first set consisted of sixty-five minutes of unceasing and intertwined lines. The evening concluded in much the same manner as it began; a recognizable statement of the melody. "If you want to buy my wares, follow me and climb the stairs. Love for sale. Each musician was, understandably, exhausted.
It is customary at this time of year to express thanks for a myriad of daily events and experiences, thus taking time to ponder of the wonders of the ordinary. Amongst the many things for which I give thanks, An Die Musik must also be included. While the jazz and creative improvisation music scene in the Washington, DC metropolitan area continues to dwindle amidst the rise of corporate retail behemoths, I am grateful that this intimate performance space and well chosen record store is in Baltimore. I am grateful that the audience members are silent and attentive, paying deserved respect to the musicians that eludes the competing venues, who continue to attract patrons seeking a situs for eating poorly prepared food and drinking weak beer during insistent conversation. I am grateful that the record store one floor below the stage is staffed by music collectors and visited by a clientele seeking unusual recordings. I am grateful that, although not particularly close to my home in Virginia, there is a place to witness legendary musicians basking in their unheralded craft.
Finally, I am grateful that such artists will continue to grace the small stage during the short remainder of the year; Wadada Leo Smith and John Lindberg will, I am sure, create stunning performances. The season concludes with a duo concert of Randy Weston and his frequent collaborator, T.K. Blue. I am, indeed, grateful.