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Album Review

Felipe Salles, Zaccao Curtis, Avery Sharpe, Jonathan Butler: Tiyo's Songs Of Life


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Felipe Salles, Zaccao Curtis, Avery Sharpe, Jonathan Butler: Tiyo's Songs Of Life
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, joyous—oddly 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, retro—early 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 positivity—odd 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 is—saxophonist 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.

Track Listing

Toe Tappin' Tastey; Blues to Change Your View—Stage In A Cage; Steppin' Up; Live A Life of Love; My Love Is Deep Inside; 12 In 5; Life Long Friends; Blues For Pablo—Blues For Professor Zinn; I'm Reaching Out.


Felipe Salles: saxophone; Zaccai Curtis: piano; Avery Sharpe: bass; Jonathan Butler: drums.

Album information

Title: Tiyo's Songs Of Life | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Tapestry Records

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