The word “survival,” signaling viability tinged with ferocity for the fittest, is a perfect name for the label founded by Rashied Ali in 1973, operated until his passing in 2009 with 10 titles to its name, and restarted earlier this year for the purpose of releasing his lost and hidden work. Renowned for his free, fierce intensity and thundering drive, Ali—famed as the drummer in John Coltrane’s final quartet, as well as for recording Interstellar Space with Trane months before his death—was wise enough to capitalize on his place in the East Village loft-jazz scene of the time by creating a label to catalog his many moods and shifting expressions.
The first release on Survival, then and now, Duo Exchange was but one mood, loose and raw. (The other fresh label release, the previously unreleased First Time Out: Live at Slugs’ 1967, is quite another mood, more sauntering and woozy.) Crafted by Ali and tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe at the studio of musician pal Marzette Watts, Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions—the original LP with alternate takes, additional outtakes, and other bells and whistles—is a more limber, relaxed-fit exercise in drum-and-saxophone union than the tense, stark Interstellar Space. As the louder partner in the conversation, Ali leads the way through most of Duo Exchange’s wiry chatter. Make no mistake, however: Lowe, a veteran of Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, and Don Cherry sessions, gives as good as he gets. During an alternate version of “Part 2 (Movement III),” you fear for both men as a sound like a heavy steel blade clashing against an equally weighty shield marks the track.
“We gonna stretch … play your saxophone on this one, man,” Ali says before the start of the master version of “Part 2 (Movement III).” “Don’t worry about no time limit shit … it’s going to be like a mellow, sort-of relaxed, beat. It ain’t going to be too frantic.” That said, “Part 2 (Movement III)” is … well, frantic, all skittering, quick cymbals and athletic snare hits going up against Lowe’s squealing sheets of sound. But lest you think all of Duo Exchange is as free as the wind, after the introduction of its tight, bright “Part 1” theme, Lowe flips soulful, sweet melodic phrases in the air like pancakes (along with rude honks and wailing moans), only to have them caught in midair and sliced by Ali’s piercing snare work.
The only thing more powerful than the entirety of Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions is the thought of what might have been had Lowe and Ali exchanged further thoughts. Unless and until Survival unearths anything additional between the two, this conversation is golden. A.D. AMOROSI