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Diaspora Meets AfroHORN: Jazz: A Music of the Spirit/Out of Sistas’ Place (Ahmed Abdullah/Monique Ngozi Nri)

A review of the album led by two veterans of the Sun Ra Arkestra

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Diaspora Meets AfroHorn: Jazz: A Music of the Spirit/Out of Sistas’ Place
The cover of Jazz: A Music of the Spirit/Out of Sistas’ Place by Diaspora Meets AfroHorn

Trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah and percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett, both veterans of the Sun Ra Arkestra, co-lead this session, which features members of Mora Catlett’s AfroHORN along with Abdullah’s Diaspora ensemble (the latter making its first appearance on an album in more than 20 years).

The set is infused with sharply honed commentary and gritty urbanity. Abdullah immediately sets the tone on the opening “Accent” with a sweetly astringent foray into exploratory melodicism, which dissolves quickly into a free-form ensemble passage, then back into the melody, another dissolve, and finally a series of solos—flugelhorn (Abdullah), baritone sax (Alex Harding), piano (Donald Smith)—propelled by the rest of the group’s ongoing rhythmic and melodic impetus.

Two selections from Sun Ra’s extensive legacy are included. Abdullah’s lyrics, which build on Ra’s “I’ll Wait for You” and which he delivers in tandem with vocalist Monique Ngozi Nri, add new dimension to “Discipline 27”; “Love in Outer Space” includes, along with David Henderson’s original lyrics (sung by Abdullah and Nri), a poem by the late Louis Reyes Rivera that Nri also recites. Both outings capture Ra’s adventurous fusion of cosmic optimism and ironic playfulness.

Even at his most visionary, though, Abdullah remains a hard-eyed realist. His “Eternal Spiraling Spirit” plunges into Nri’s spellbinding reading of Reyes Rivera’s “A Place I’ve Never Been,” a harrowing account of Malcolm X’s assassination told from the perspective of the bullet that took him down (“Nooo! Why me? Don’t make me do it!”). Then, as if defying the very horror that it invoked, the piece ascends again into the light.

The set concludes with Nri reciting her poem “Terra Firma” accompanied by the full ensemble. Its extended coda sounds like a jubilant after-hours jam; the intergalactic explorers have returned with stories to tell, and the celebration is underway. Space may be the place, but home, despite its horrors and vicissitudes, is where the spirit dwells. 


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David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.