July/August 2005

Ahmed Abdullah's Ebonic Tones
Tara's Song

The quintet convened here by trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah would, on the face of it, seem to be best suited to free playing. Instead, Abdullah has them tackle chord-based tunes like Gigi Gryce's "Sans Souci" and Sun Ra's "Tapestry" to some very good ends.

Alex Harding is arguably the most consistently interesting baritone saxophonist around. Like many free players conversant with conventional forms, his playing on changes can be a bit clunky, but all the more effective for it, since he avoids a lot of time-honored cliches. His solo on "Tapestry" is romantic without being maudlin; he adopts a traditional jazz ballad emotional template, but his harmonic and melodic schemes are of his own design. Violinist Billy Bang's contribution is a bit uneven. His soulful country blues approach can be enormously effective, but his tendency to fly out of tune when he needs to match pitch with the ensemble is problematic. Bassist Alex Blake holds down the many different grooves with distinction, and drummer Andrei Strobert provides an inventive rhythmic base.

Abdullah himself is a wonderfully lyrical, spirited improviser and gifted arranger. Remindful of pianist Abdullah Ibrahim's various small groups, this band exudes an authentically joyful intelligence.

Originally published in July/August 2005
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