|| Ahmed Abdullah Quartet
Cat. No.: SHCD104
Ahmed Abdullah trumpet, fluegelhorn, piano
Charles Brackeen tenor saxophone
Malachi Favors bass
Alvin Fielder drums
1. Mayibue (arr. Abdullah) 7:25
2. Reflections on a Mystic (Abdullah) 5:09
3. Ebony Queen (Abdullah) 8:08
4. Mystery of Two (Ra) 3:14
5. Liquid Magic / The Ruler (Abdullah / Abdullah) 10:40
6. Walk with God (Kola) 6:49
7. The Ruler (Take 2) (Abdullah) 9:15
8. Ebony Queen (Take 2) (Abdullah) 8:28
Total time: 59:08
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"Abdullah has a good technique and a tone you could roast bread on. His cohorts
Malachi Favors, Charles Brackeen, Alvin Fielder – are enormously capable
and experienced. Things really begin to happen and the album blazes with the vigor
and sense of self-surprise that marked those that followed Ornette into wonderland
in the early 1960s."
Jack Cooke, The Wire, January 1989
No idiom is more poorly served by its popular nametag than avant-garde jazz. Or
free jazz, or the New-Thing, or whatever appellation is to our taste this
day. None of these terms express the comprehensiveness of the trumpeter,
This one-time accompanist to spatial Sun Ra was inspired to play music by a TV
appearance by the earthiest of traditionalists, Louis Armstrong. An ally of percipient
jazzmen such as Don Cherry, Arthur Blythe, Marion Brown, Billy Bang, and Frank
Lowe, he is also a veteran of stints with hearty soulmen like Solomon Burke, Little
Johnny Taylor, and Joe Simon. These aren't inconsistencies. They are rather, manifestations
of the worldliness that makes Ahmed's music gratifying to hear.
In February of '87, a convocation of individualistic musicians took place in
Dallas, Texas. They rehearsed at the home of Dallas multi-instrumentalist Dennis
Gonzalez for the sessions that resulted in this album.
In the studio, Ahmed's trumpet aud flueglehorn playing provided an extremely
comprehensive vista of jazz. In the midst of something you'd peg as South African,
he'd snap off notes that would evoke Hot Lips Page or Cootie Williams. During
something strange and surreal, he'd segue into the blues, or into a quick riff
that would connote his R&B facets as clearly as a glimpte of a rib joint.
A trumpeter who dropped by Omega to visit remarked that Ahmed is patently a player
who plays a lot. His centered pitch and controlled vibrato betoken an artist
who rarely goes a day without practice or performance. His intentness while explaining
his compositions to the other musicians was another indication that he's very
focused on his music.
He'd accurately scat lines of his snags, bending syllables to express the hues
he wanted from them when they emerged as music.
Alvin Fielder, ebullient and wry, caught the grooves quickly and when he had,
his propulsiveness energized the emergent compositions. Malachi, the meditative
bassist, applied mortar. As for Brackeen, well, it's good bet that a majority
of those who describe Brackeen haul out the word "intense". When Brackern
meets you he looks you right in the eye, he doesn't look at your chin or your
nose it's right in the eye. His playing is often similarly direct, but
it is sometimes oblique and brooding. He possesses the big tenor tone of certain
famous Texans but unlike their conscious emulators, his tone is big and clear,
not big and sloppy. He drinks nothing, not so much as a drop of water,
during sessions, to enhance this very aridity of tone. Solo-wise he is deep, often
dark an apt ally for Ahmed, whose tone is bright not jivey bright,
but bright like the sun shining on a young lion's back.
It was an appearance by Satchmo on Ed Sullivan's variety show that prompted Ahmed
Abdullah, then called Leroy Bland, to take up trumpet. By the late '60s he was
with the turbulent Master Brotherhood, a collective fronted by Joe Rigby who was
of the Coltrane school. In 1970, in the time-honored tradition of jazz players
"coming up", Ahmed backed an R&B singer. It was Little Johnny Taylor,
an emotional soulman who currently lives in Dallas. Players of free leanings often
have a bad attitude towards such primal stuff, but Ahmed didn't mind it as all.
"I don't particularly like to see people just sit and listen to music,"
says the trumpeter. "I like to see them move, to see them dance! I think
that's part of what music's about, and I like to play music that can do that.
I like to play for dancers, and I like to play for dances. I mean, I just like
to see movement!
"There's movement in the R&B thing and there's movement in the South
African music that I'm interested in. Blues is folk music, and folk music the
world over deals with that, with movement. I was living in Brooklyn (when I started)
playing dances, I started playing with some West Indian cats, some Trinidadian
musicians who lived in the neighborhood. Just did a whole social music thing."
Also in 1970, Ahmed joined the Melodic Art-tet, which was reputedly quite a good
band. Far more melodically evolved than the Master Brotherhood, it was largely
a vehicle for the compotisions of Charles Brackeen. Ahmed remembers meeting Brackeen,
who was at the time fond of wearing floor-length capes and weird hats, at a Collective
Black Artists' cadre in Manhattan. Brackeen and Sun Ra accomplices Ronnie Boykins
and Roger Blank wanted to start a group, lacked a trumpeter, and there was Ahmed.
The Melodic Art-tet was formed and remained together until 1974. Unhappily, they
made no recordings for commercial release.
It was at a Melodic Art-tet performance in Philadelphia that Sun Ra first heard
Ahmed. Some years passed, during which Ahmed operated with what was becoming his
usual diversity, backing Joe Simon and Solomon Burke, and commencing an alliance
with dancer Dianne McIntyre (with whom he no longer performs). In '75 Sun Ra phoned
Ahmed to ask him to join the Arkestra. Ahmed amusedly recalls discussing surprise
at Sun Ra's using so mundane a device as a phone for communication; one might
have at least suspected celestial writings. But he jumped at the chance to join
the fabled (and well-traveled!) Arkestra, and was soon touring Europe and Africa
in their company.
"We were dealing with dancers, a light show, twenty-piece band, and a cast
of thousands!" remembers Ahmed. "I loved every minute of it!"
What he loved best was the African tour, which culminated in a colossal music
festival and procession at a sports arena in Lagos, Nigeria.
"There were 62 nations represented" states Ahmed. "There were
Indian people, African people we were all staying right next door to each
other so it was nothing to go out at night and hear a band from the Ivory Coast,
or a band frow Algeria I just heard so much music! The drummers' ensembles,
they'd play at night and were hypnotic. And I heard a man from Burundi,
a trumpeter, who juts knocked me out! I can hear him yet today and that was ten
Ahmed spent a good three tears with the band but, cosmic though Sun Ra may be,
he is still bound by the terrene tenet that says, big band leaders don't make
enough money to pay their band members big bread. Ahmed had kids to tend, so he
left the Arkestra in 1978.
The intervening years have been active. There were some low, nasty times, and
once Ahmed seriously contemplated leaving music. But he stood fast. Three were
stints with Rashied Ali (1977-78) and Ed Blackwell (1979-80), and performances
with the Saheb Sarbib Big Band. He begun fronting his own unit, called Abdullah,
and became a fixture on the New York jazz club and loft scene. In 1980, he got
a day gig driving a cab, and although there are more tranquil ways to earn a living
in Manhattan, it does offer flexibility. Musicians generally dislike day jobs,
but Ahmed points out that having one gave him the wherewithal to turn down musical
engagements that might have compromised him.
But it may be that Manhattan will soon be short of a cab driver as Ahmed's renown
increases. As of this writing (3/18/87), he's getting attention with The Group,
which comprises Marion Brown, Billy Bang, Sirone (although Fred Hopkins, is currently
deputising) and Andrew Cyrille. Marion Brown is a star, Billy Bang is much discussed,
and alliances with such notables, coupled with Ahmed's estimable performance and
compositional abilities, may well serve to take him from the realm of the cabbie.
The Group and Saheb's band, and the other aggregates Ahmed works with usually
perform for adults. Throughout the land, adults get to hear great stuff that kids
don't get to hear because it is staged in collaboration with the trading of booze.
But Ahmed takes time to play for the young.
"If there's any future to this music at all," asserts Ahmed, "it's
with the young. Their minds are open, they're there to be developed. If we do
it in a harmonious way it develops safeguards for the future, musical and otherwise.
I've been working with children since 1969, (when) I used to work in a day-care
center. That came out of a supposed militancy in the 60's, people talking about
changing the system. I realized that if we are really going to change anything,
we were going to have so change minds. Young minds!"
"I've been working for the past four years with an organization in New York
called Young Audiences," continues the trumpeter. "I work with a dancer,
Mickey Davidson. I play and she performs and we do a 40 minute lecture demonstration,
during the course of which the children hear (selections from) Charlie Parker,
Count Basie, some standards it gives them a chance to see the horn close
up, to within inches of them, 'cause they're right up on the stage with us. We
perform for about 50 to 70 students at a time and they really get to be touched
by the music. It's a gratifying thing to do. I mean, when you look into their
eyes! Sometimes I'm just getting up when I've been working all night, and
I wonder, how in the hell am I going so get the energy to produce and then
I look into those eyes and I have to. There's no longer any question about
The LP opens with "Mayibue", that he first heard on a
Miriam Makeba album some twenty years ago. Ahmed didn't know what African nation
the word derives from but it means "Restore Africa" and sounds South
It's a celebratory sort of tune, it moves. (Fielder suggested it has a
son montuño feel and played it with the strainers off his snare,
to get a timbales effect.) You hear Brackeen in one of his oblique modes; his
sax sounds festive but there's a suggestion of shadow in there as well. Ahmed,
heard on fluegelhorn, plays brilliantly, frugally, and Fielder contributes a feisty
The moody "Reflections On a Mystic" begins with Ahmed
on piano and Malachi on positively doomy arco bass. Things lighten after
several choruses of this thematic composition, which begins with brooding and
portent, and evolves into brightness and more than a little beauty.
Not too long ago for it now to feel remote, Ahmed endured a period of failed relationships
and gloom. He happened across a copy of Karl Jung's "Memories, Dreams, Reflections"
and credits it with helping him to pull himself from the slump. (''I had never
dealt with anyone who dealt with the mental realm in a more positite manner,"
says Ahmed. "Jung's reflections were life-enhancing to me.") In tribute,
he wrote a five part suite (which he performs with dancers in New York) and "Reflections"
is its opening segment. It's a serious introspective piece, but when Malachi begins
to play pizzicato and Ahmed switches to trumpet, the mood changes from
one of brooding to one of ascendancy.
Then into the hooky "Ebony Queen", written by Ahmed in
dedication to the mother of his twins. He performs it on fluegelhorn. It reminds
one somewhat of Codona, the Don Cherry group, with its drily exotic swing. It
was easier on the musicians than the heavy "Reflections",
which they'd recorded immediately before. They sailed right into it, catching
the groove from the first, and their enthusiasm it evident on the recording. Dig
Ahmed, coarsening his usually spotless tone with purrs and growls, reminding one
of Lee Morgan (but just a little).
"Mystery of Two" was written by Sun Ra in Paris, and may
be heard on Sun Ra's EP Cosmos on Inner City. The Arkestra didn't perform
the song frequently during Ahmed's tenure, but he came to regard it as one of
the unsung jewels in the Sun Ra canon and vowed to record it one day. His treatment
shows how he transcends jazz factionalism. It's pretty close to hard bop, with
Ahmed and Brackeen exchanging bantering phrases. The trumpet sound is shiny, like
splashes of lake water in morning sun, the tenor alternately burly and spare.
sax tones are a fine foil to the nimble metal gambol of the trumpet, and the result
is a gratifying tension that makes this a most arresting selection.
The title track, "Liquid Magic", is a prelude to "Ruler"
and showcases some simply beautiful playing from Ahmed. The number derives from
improvisations Ahmed did while playing in collaboration with the dancer, Diane
McIntyre. ("It was in 1981," recalls Ahmed. "We'd developed a concept
of working, improvising together, where I just watched movement, recorded what
I improvised during the dance, and wrote it down afterward.")
You can almost see a dancer move as Ahmed blows softly with accompaniment only
by the subtle Malachi, who injects a well-spoken solo of his own before launching
into the robust, driving patterns of "Ruler". Alvin enters,
tering with quiet accents at first, but then matters intensify as Brackeen begins
to play. The tune becomes active and busy as Ahmed and Brackeen play almost combatively,
Brackeen's tone strident, with Ahmed playing phrases made all the more vigorous
by his ploy of laying low for short spaces between them.
The LP closes with a cocky number Ahmed received in the mail from a felon. It's
true; a certain doctor Kola sent "Walk With God" to Ahmed
from a cell in a New York state penal institution. "It's like a blues tune
without blues changes," opined Alvin Fielder of the quirky tune. It opens
with Ahmed blowing sly, muted trumpet. He evokes a New Orleans blues swagger a
time or two on this selection.
The word positive gets over-worked these days, but it is highly germane
to Ahmed Abdullah. It is certainly positive that he takes time to play
for kids, and that he is not too cosmic to let R&B and multi-ethnic dance
parties in New York basketball courts inspire and influence him. It is positive
that he is an accomplished and evolving musician, and that he has recorded this
album. It is a manifestation of his highly significant musical art.