Seventy-six wasn’t so old to Ali. Take a listen to his new Live in Europe album, recorded very recently with his working quintet. Two of the tracks burn hard for more than 25 minutes, and his drum solo early in “Theme for Captain Black” shows he could still positively shred.
That quintet builds off compositions brighter in mood and lighter in spirit than the late-phase Coltrane works that have come to define Ali’s career. Lawrence Clarke on sax blazes through his solos, keeping up the energy level propelled by Ali’s continual whirlwind.
And we’re definitely talking about compositions, a departure from the freely improvised jazz I’d come to know Ali for. The unchallenging nature of the quintet’s two Judgment Day studio CDs left me scratching my head a bit, but the live album’s got me converted. It’s not like Ali was using this band to take a breather.
Dig around this page of CD reviews on Ali’s Web site, and you’ll see him mention comparisons to Art Blakey, the drummer/bandleader who surrounded himself with younger players, to keep his mind sharp. That seems to be the MO with the quintet.
Getting to the playlists, though:
First, I subbed for DJ Fo‘s “No Cover No Minimum” (6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.), an excellent show that embraces a more mainstream stripe of jazz than my show does. That seemed a good venue for putting some Judgment Day tracks out there, and I aired the full 30-minute version of “Thing for Joe” that’s on the live album. Ali’s solo comes towards the end, so latecomers had plenty of time to catch it. Click here for the full playlist.
Then came my regular show (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.), where I chose to pack a Rashied Ali tribute into the middle “hour.” (The final tally was 90 minutes.) Worth it. Here’s the box score:
* Rashied Ali, Louie Belogenis — “Takedawitcha” — Rings of Saturn (Knitting Factory, 1998) ….. A 10-minute opener that culminates in a terrific Ali solo. Ali recorded a few albums with Belogenis around the turn of the century, pursuing aggressive free jazz with no small nod to Coltrane.
* Rashied Ali, Louie Belogenis, Wilbur Morris — “Norfolk Street Run Down” (DIW, 2001) ….. I’d picked this one just for the flavor of active group work, expecting to fade it early, but ended up running nearly all its 13-minute length. Same concept as above, but with the late Morris adding bass depth. Ali takes the type of solo that consists of a rhythmic pounding, a fast and difficult pounding that makes you sweat just listening to it.
* Rashied Ali, Peter Kowald, Assif Tsahar — “Deals, Ideas & Ideals” ….. Deals, Ideas & Ideals (Hopscotch, 2000) ….. Another sax/bass trio, but taking one big step sideways away from ‘Trane, into more abstract stylings, particularly on Kowald’s part. We were still in Fast Saxophone Land here, but the shift in styles was a welcome change of pace.
* Henry Rollins — [Tracks 7 & 8] — Everything (2.13.61, 1996) ….. This is a 2-CD set of Rollins reading a prepared work: the same bile you’re used to, but delivered less recklessly. Ali and Charles Gayle provide the “score” for parts of the piece, and the final, eighth, track of the album is just the two of them, no Henry, for 15 minutes of free blowing. To avoid the CD’s minefield of swear words, I excerpted Rollins’ final two minutes, which get stoically mournful and despairing (culminating in a weary, defeated voice: “and then there was nothing”) before giving way to that 15-minute ending.
* John Coltrane — “Leo” — Interstellar Space (Impluse, 1967; reissued 1994) ….. It’s fast and choppy, but once you’re picked up in its momentum, you can hear “Leo” as an exercise in precision and discipline. With the disruptive opening, I can see why they left it off the original LP. But it’s an excellent track, with fluid drumming by Ali in his prime.
* John Coltrane — “To Be” — Expressions (Impulse, 1967) ….. A quiet 16 minutes, with ‘Trane on flute and Pharoah Sanders on piccolo. I considered this a palette cleanser. Ali works with brushes most of the time, filling space with fast scribbles on the snare and on cymbals. It’s the kind of track where the drummer, though providing a high percentage of the sound, is pushed to the background. It wasn’t easy trying to concentrate my ears on Ali, and I’m not sure I “learned” anything doing so, but I was glad to have included this one in the program.
* Rashied Ali Quintet — “Theme for Captain Black” [excerpt] — Live in Europe (Survival, 2009) ….. Played this one up through that shredding solo I mentioned up top. He avoids the cymbals for so long at one point, concentrating on marvelous rolling tom and snare work. The lack of cymbals feels unflashy, but the speed and showmanship just wrap you up. We should all be so lucky at 76. It leaves me feeling like Ali had a lot more work to do.