A new Dutch label, Jazztribes, has hit with a splash. Its inaugural release is no ordinary tribute album; the CD comes inside a beautiful 66-page hardcover book.
In 2000, bassist Joris Teepe, originally of the Netherlands, now of New York, began an association with Rashied Ali, best known as John Coltrane’s last drummer and a seminal figure in liberating the jazz rhythm section from timekeeping responsibilities—you can hear him on the 1967 duo album with Coltrane, Interstellar Space, a foundational text of avant-garde jazz. Ali died at 76 in 2009. In the book, Teepe says he didn’t want to lead an Ali legacy band, but rather (in keeping with this project’s title) to create a work in Ali’s spirit.
The band here includes tenor saxophonist Johannes Enders, guitarist Freddie Bryant, and drummer John Betsch. Two other saxophonists, Wayne Escoffery (tenor) and Michael Moore (alto), are in and out. Only Teepe ever played with Ali. Unlike extremist drummers such as Sunny Murray, Ali didn’t play free jazz exclusively; often he occupied that fertile creative zone between inside and out. That is exactly where Teepe’s album lives. The repertoire draws on primary avant-garde sources like Don Cherry (“Multi Kulti”), Ornette Coleman (“Turnaround”), and Frank Lowe (“Sidewalks in Motion”), but the versions are concise and never quite fly apart. Enders is a revelation. He works close to the margins beyond which chaos lurks, but saxophone lines that sound abstract turn out to be playing the song. Another surprise is Teepe. He powers the ensembles from the inside with his thunder, and steps out for imposing solos, like on Monk’s “Think of One.” The centerpiece is “Rashied Ali Suite,” a medley of five Ali compositions. Their rarefied lyricism is unleashed in the fierce, serrated unisons of Enders and Escoffery.
The book, like the music, is passionate and free-form. It contains long, rambling monologues from Ali’s widow Patricia, his brother Muhammad, and four musicians who played with Ali toward the end of his life: Teepe, Greg Murphy, Jumaane Smith, and Sonny Fortune. Some editing and proofreading would have been helpful, but the intimate reminiscences bring Ali to life as a courageous artist and demanding mentor. All together, the recollections, the many high-quality color photographs, and the strong music create a unique testimonial, to keep Rashied Ali from being forgotten.