Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sonny Fortune and Rashied Ali

Last night I had the opportunity to hear two amazing artists: Coltrane drummer Rashied Ali in duet with seasoned alto-saxophonist Sonny Fortune. Contemporaries from Philly, sleeves rolled up, both men came on stage ready to take care of business.

I was so ready to go, I unfastened my seat belt.

Without breaking a sweat, Fortune and Ali traversed terrain they'd traveled before. Undocumented commercially, the two have something here which is all but lost. I think the last time I saw something like this was when Charles Lloyd, Eric Harland and Zakir Hussain played together at the Palace of Fine Arts. I think all they had was a concept and the rest was invention.

They'll be back at SFJAZZ this fall with the recording.

It was trance music...the set one continuous open ended free movement...with familiar names and landmarks interpreted entirely new. It was participatory and instructive...Fortune's shortest piece, at minimum, 15-20 minutes long.

The conjure-men were hooking up some mysterious roots -- I have to get the recipe. The aroma was so intense, the flavor so delectable, the club had to prop open the doors and pass out bowls and spoons.

The musicians were channeling John Coltrane of course, and Monk on one tune. If there had been more time, I'm certain the other ancestors present would have stepped to the mic, presented their calling cards and sat in, but well I guess people had to go home. I didn't, but I was in the minority when at 11:30 the brothers on stage called it quits after a second set which was one-song-long...Fortune playing nonstop for over an hour.

His Love for Sale a question, an offer, reconciliation, hurt, denial, disbelief. Ali played nonstop...yet, sometimes had to shout when he got tickled, then he'd have to smile...Fortune was so intense, so intense without breaking a sweat.

Neither man worked up a sweat.... Even when he paused after a half an hour or so, Fortune looked like he could hardly wait to get back into the dialogue as Ali took the opportunity to take the conversation in another direction, his drum set...all over the African Diaspora.

I kept looking for hand percussion instruments as Kinshasa gave way to Congo Square... the dirge shifting to the Philly funk scene Ali and Fortune knew as youth.

When I walked into the club earlier that night, prepared to stay for both sets,
I knew I was in for a special evening. Fortune was already on stage reinterpreting Impressions, an appropriate theme for the night, the venue scantly full, the audience: a handful of youth, lots of old men, and a smattering of women -- serious fans, sort of like the audience at the William Parker gig earlier this year.

Ali and Fortune made us work last night, maybe harder than they did. I don't know if anyone dares to challenge the form anymore like they do regularly. Coltrane was misunderstood while he was alive, can you imagine how popular Fortune and Ali are as they not only revive the canon, they play it the way they feel it?

I don't understand the hesitation or fear. Why artists don't want to keep the canon alive...keep pushing the envelop.

So anyway these cats were exercising their freedom Wednesday night, their freedom to take Coltrane's melodies and reinterpret them in ways they hadn't had the opportunity to yet. It was a private party they let us in on.

Ali mentioned in one of the many interviews I read that night on-line when I got home, that he loved "free music" more than any other form. Fortune and Ali need to get a recording on the market quickly so people will stop giving their personal liberty, not to mention civil liberties, away because like Nina Simone said, "They don't know what it means to be free."

Perhaps it was the form, duet. Two men. One horn, one drum set. A lot of music.

I felt like I was in an African village. I wanted to go on stage and put money on Fortune's forehead. I wanted to dance when Ali played familiar rhythms I knew, yet couldn't name.

I felt all my people surround me, in this realm and in others, I felt their nods, their affirmation their peace, their happiness, their blessings on the moment.

Heru Nefera Amen was correct when he shouted at the end of "Love for Sale," everyone on their feet applauding: "This is holy music!" "This is church music!" "This is sacred music!"

I'd add, "This is what is feels like to be free, music."

The brothers have a gig in LA this weekend at the Jazz Bakery. If my good friend wasn't having a birthday party Saturday, I might drive down to hear them again...two sets wasn't nearly enough.

You know, sometimes one is just happy to be alive. The Rashied/Fortune concert at Yoshi's is one of those experiences one cannot duplicate. I'm so happy I was in the house.

As I listened to John Coltrane and Rashied Ali in duet on Interstellar Space today, the duet came close, but it wasn't Sonny Fortune and Rashied Ali playing which is what I had a taste for, what those two men did with Coltrane's tunes, what they created together.