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Rashied Ali Dies at 74

Rashied Ali

Free-jazz fans who attended the Newport fest on Sunday would’ve noted a last-minute replacement in By Any Means, the out-jazz supergroup consisting of saxophonist Charles Gayle, bassist William Parker and drummer Rashied Ali. When the gig rolled around it was announced that Ali had suffered a heart attack and would be replaced by his brother Muhammad, a historic avant-garde drummer in his own right.

Rashied Ali died last night of a blocked artery at Bellevue Hospital in New York, N.Y. He was 74.

Ali is probably best remembered as the second drummer added to John Coltrane’s mid-1960s band, a move that, in addition to the increasingly abstract nature of the saxophonist’s music, provoked the exits of pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones. Ali’s arrival into Coltrane’s fold, along with that of saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, was a catalyst for one of jazz’s great aesthetic divides, ushering in Coltrane’s controversial late period. In 1967 Ali and Coltrane recorded Interstellar Space, an audacious duets album that became a school of free improvisation unto itself, in the process making the duo a viable (and popular) free-improv format.

But Ali truly was “multidirectional,” as Coltrane termed it, and that included playing bebop and, like Trane, R&B in his hometown of Philadelphia. The quintet he led over the past half-decade or so swung furiously.

Check out Chris Kelsey’s terrific Overdue Ovation on Ali from 2006.

Originally Published