The downtown New York loft jazz of the early '70s, with its blend of free jazz and hard bop, was a great moment in time, and the musical spirit it nurtured endures. Trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah was a part of that scene, as was violinist Billy Bang, whose sound right now is the hottest thing in improvised music. Merely having him in the lineup makes Abdullah's Ebonic Tones a supergroup, like when Eric Clapton played with Stevie Winwood in Blind Faith. Bang handles the notes on the upper end, Abdullah takes the middle, and baritone sax man Alex Harding locks it down from below, giving the Ebonic Tones a uniquely balanced approach and plenty of options.
Beautifully packaged in colorful, sturdy cardboard with an attached booklet of photos, producer's notes, musician bios, and commentary on the songs from Abdullah, Tara's Song is marvelous. Bang's arrangement of Ornette's "Lonely Woman is a revelation. Bang's plinking violin, Alex Blake's driving, reverberating bass, and Andrei Strobert's rolling drums suggest that this woman isn't so much lonely as on the prowl. Abdullah, Bang and Harding (who blows as if he's trying to shake off a memory before shouting "enough! ) solo like the hellhounds are on their trail.
The rest of the CD maintains this level of excellence. It's present in the sadly beautiful melody of Abdullah's title track, where the leader's solo combines the fragile lyricism of Sketches of Spain with the grit of "The Sidewinder ; on Frank Lowe's staggered calypso, "Nothing But Love, which features a wonderful stomping double-time Harding solo; on two homages to the Ebonic Tones' spiritual leader, Sun Ra, where there is a smile in Abdullah's voice as he delivers the loopy lyrics; and on "Blue Monk, which swings like a screen door on a windy day. The program finishes with a brief "Iko Iko, with background vocals from someone who sounds like Jerome calling out to Bo Diddley. One can only imagine how joyous this band is live.
1. Sans Souci;
2. Lonely Woman;
Ahmed Abdullah: trumpet, vocals;
Billy Bang: violin;
Alex Harding: baritone saxophone;
Alex Blake: bass;
Andrei Strobert: drums.
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