Embarking on an errant path in his youth led saxophonist Tiyo Attallah Salah-El to life in prison, without the possibility of parole. That is about as grim as it gets, but Salah-El, rather than giving in to defeat, turned himself into a behind-the-bars composer, author and activist. He passed in 2018, but his music came to the attention of saxophonist Felipe Sallas via prison abolitionist Lois Ahrens, who had befriended the imprisoned saxophonist Salaah-El, and even provided him with fifty sheets of blank music paper so he could document his music. Ahrens worked for seventeen years to find an artist who could do justice to her friend's artistry, finally connecting with Salles. The result is Tiyo's Songs of Life.
Saxophonist Salles assembled a top-notch quartet for the project. The music is exhilarating, life affirming, joyousoddly for sounds created in Salah-El's situation. As "Tappin' Toe Tastey," the set's opener, spins to life, a first impression is that a retro mode is in play. Some of that may come from the cool cover photo of a brown-eyed handsome man a 1950 shot of Salah-El, who was known as David Riley Jones at the time with a grin on his face and a saxophone in his lap. It looks like a throwback poster for a jazz show in that early fifties time frame. And, in a way, the music is, in part, retroearly Blue Note Records hard bop style. But Salles and his quartet give things a modern sheen.
Salles' interpretations of Salah-El's music are reminiscent of pianist Bud Powell's sound, ebullient, luminescent with positivityodd in Powell's case, due to his mental problems and police run-ins, and odd too for Salah-El, given his circumstances. But there it issaxophonist Salles, bassist Avery Sharpe, drummer Jonathan Barber, and especially pianist Zaccai Curtis, whose style is loose-limbed and freewheeling, giving these these bop grooves a high polish, a start-to-finish bop cohesion and an engaging lean in the direction of modernity.
Toe Tappin' Tastey; Blues to Change Your ViewStage In A Cage; Steppin' Up; Live A Life of
Love; My Love Is Deep Inside; 12 In 5; Life Long Friends; Blues For PabloBlues For Professor
Zinn; I'm Reaching Out.