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Ahmed: Super Majnoon (East Meets West)

Mark Corroto By

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There are discoveries in jazz waiting (patiently) to be unearthed. Most of them are hidden in plain sight, like the music of Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Born in Brooklyn in 1927, the bassist performed and recorded with, among others Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Randy Weston. Besides double bass, he pioneered the oud in jazz and improvised music as early as the late-1950s. Was it Randy Weston who inspired Abdul-Malik, or conversely did Abdul-Malik spark Weston to explore African and Middle Eastern sounds in jazz?

The quartet Ahmed, a new supergroup of London improvising musicians, fuse Abdul-Malik's music with their own distinctive free jazz approach. Drawing from two Abdul-Malik releases, Jazz Sahara (Riverside Records, 1958) and East Meets West (RCA Victor, 1960), we hear saxophonist Seymour Wright with the Ism trio members, pianist Pat Thomas, bassist Joel Grip, and drummer Antonin Gerbal. Like the previous Ahmed quartet release New Jazz Imagination (Umlaut Records, 2017), this double LP takes a meta approach to Abdul-Malik's music. It acts as a higher abstraction of Abdul-Malik's music at the intersection of Eastern, Western and African sounds. The music is constructed with simple melodies and a mesmerizing repetition and syncopation of sound. Where Abdul-Malik's fusion of East with West was undisguised, the Ahmed quartet has the advantage of sixty years of improvisational music development. Their sound is built upon an almost minimalistic repetition of sequences, one that has been quarried by Philip Glass and Carl Stalling. Like the album's title, the quartet's Majnoon, Arabic for 'crazy,' is the order of the day. The music chugs and trudges not unlike a train's locomotion, changing key and pace. The players maintain the repetitions as the architecture but decorate around the pulse. The two LPs are split between a studio recording (in an empty gallery in Hong Kong) and a concert at Cafe OTO in London. Naturally the live date is more feverish, as hints of Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy 1960s New Thing mingle with the Eastern sounds. The 75-minutes of music are mesmerizing and and exhausting. But as they say, it's a good kind of tired.

Track Listing

E-Lail (The Night) East; Farah ‘Alaiyna (Joy Upon Us); E-Lail (The Night) West Part I; E-Lail (The Night) West Part II.

Personnel

Antonin Gerbal: drums; Joel Grip: bass, acoustic; Pat Thomas: piano; Seymour Wright: saxophone.

Album information

Title: Super Majnoon (East Meets West) | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Otoroku

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