Rashied Ali 

N.Y. Ain't So Bad
Moon Flight
New Directions in Modern Music
Duo Exchange
Swift Are the Winds of Life

(Knitting Factory)

Drummer Rashied Ali gained attention in the John Coltrane band as part of a drum duo that included the great Elvin Jones. When Jones left, Ali remained, and he and Coltrane collaborated on 1967's Interstellar Space. Among Jones's major contributions was that, unlike previous drummers, he implied rather than explicitly stated the beat in the rhythm sections. Ali, along with other drummers affiliated with the free jazz movement, puts a great deal of energy and thought into providing counter-rhythms and colors. Unlike many free jazz musicians, Ali has a broad musical background and has played effectively in a variety of contexts; his versatility is demonstrated on this group of discs, recently reissued by Knitting Factory.

N.Y. Ain't So Bad features blues singer Royal Blue, and on it Ali performs as a timekeeper. This is a strange album, because Royal Blue is a spirited but traditional blues vocalist, but he sounds odd in the context of this Coltrane-influenced band. Moon Flight is not an especially far-out record by 1975 standards, and the solos here are passionate but derivative. More stimulating is Quintet, which was recorded with trumpeter Earl Cross, tenor saxophonist Bob Ralston, and pioneering guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer. The bassist, the unsung John Dana, turns out to be the most innovative player here, making very good use of harmonics, bent tones, and distortion. Less interesting is New Directions in Modern Music, an album which contains two long live performances that are poorly recorded. Duo Exchange features tenor saxman Frank Lowe, a second generation free jazzman who comes out of the tradition of Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Pharoah Sanders. The problem with the music here is its lack of contrast. Performances begin at a fever pitch and stay high until they finish. Swift Are the Winds of Life, the other duo CD, pairs Ali with violinist Leroy Jenkins, who brings his rich musical background into play here. These CDs vary considerably in quality, but a constant is Ali, who's aggressive but not overbearing, proving that his importance has endured.

More by Harvey Pekar


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