A pioneer of free jazz drumming in the ’60s, Rashied Ali is laying down his multi-directional pulse with renewed vigor at the age of 64. You can hear his enthusiasm cut through on Rings of Saturn (Knitting Factory Works), Ali’s captivating duet project with tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis. Together they rekindle the kinetic energy and conversational flow of Rashied’s searing duets with John Coltrane from 1967’s Interstellar Space. Indeed, the title track of the new album refers to “Saturn,” a piece from that very same landmark recording which they also reprise here. And Ali brings that same kind of focused intensity to bear on the kit this time around.
“My approach to the drums is the same,” says the progenitor of polytonal percussion. “I don’t care what I’m playing or who I’m playing with, I always approached the music the way I play and I just make it work for whatever I’m doing. Because I can only come at the kit the way I come at it, in a melodic way. I have to complement who I’m playing with but I don’t sacrifice my style of drumming for it. So it’s against the grain but at the same time it just works with everything.”
Ali feels that the current climate is ripe for free jazz. “The art form was in very bad shape there for a minute but for some reason it’s just starting to resurface,” he says. “Now it seems like I’m working more in the ’90s than I did in the ’70s and the ’80s. There’s also a lot of younger musicians out here who are embracing the avant garde, and that tells me something. So I feel pretty positive about what’s happening with this music now, moreso than I did ten years ago.”
As Ali sees it, free jazz may be the perfect music to usher in the new millenium. “You just can’t go into it playing the same old thing,” he says. “You have to go in there with a different sound. And it’s been here since the ’60s.”