The musical legacy of Rashied Ali receives a powerful rejuvenation with the publication of a previously unissued set by Ali’s group, recorded live at Slugs in 1967. This obscure appearance may have been only the second time that Ali had led a band in public. Band membership is stellar and unprecedented, and the tunes they play predate all known segments of Rashied’s career as a composer or bandleader.
Drummer Rashied Ali (1933–2009) was still officially on the job as John Coltrane’s drummer when he assembled this band for perhaps as little as two sets of music in the Spring of 1967. It’s about the first documentable activity for the late tenor saxophonist Ramon Morris, who had thoroughly absorbed the lessons of John Coltrane, post 1961. Trumpeter Dewey Johnson (who, like Morris, died months before this release) had his peak moment of fame two years prior, appearing with Coltrane on the orchestral Free Jazz masterpiece Ascension. Pianist Stanley Cowell was just emerging as a distinctive voice among the open-minded ‘Young Lions’ of the day, on his way from Marion Brown’s quartet to groups led by Max Roach. Bassist Reggie Johnson was already familiar with Slugs; he had worked there, alongside Ali and Cowell, across the previous two years.
Little or no announcement heralded this gig; It may well be that only the neighborhood regulars and Ali’s associates (might Trane himself have been there?) would have known about it. But the players came to burn: They crackled and glowed in long treatments of Rashied’s loosely-structured pieces. Ali has more to say here as a soloist than in the several years of his recording career prior, and all of the musicians show a side different from how they appeared on records.
This stereo recording gives us a front row seat—with all the grit and mayhem from those heady times. Meticulous remastering from the original tapes has polished this bit of East Village verité into a riveting, glistening-but-raw pearl from the black underground of the Sixties.