Veteran drummer Ali leads a band that explores the hallowed ground between hard bop jazz and the avant-garde, where the boundaries of form fade and the promise of freedom tempts. He is joined on this journey by Josh Evans in trumpet, Lawrence Clark on tenor saxophone, Greg Murphy on piano and Joris Teepe on bass. The sound their best when they fly close to the sun, taking risks and reaping huge rewards on the two epic performances of compositions by guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer, "Theme for Captain Black" and "Thing for Joe." Both of these long improvised performances allow the band to stretch out, everyone soloing at length, with Clark taking the honors as he blows with great lust and vigor, at times channeling Ali's former boss, John Coltrane, and then taking particular inspiration from Joe Henderson, whom the latter piece was dedicated to. Murphy seems in thrall to another Coltrane band veteran, McCoy Tyner, as his strong lush playing bears his influence. But this isn't some repertory or tribute band, Ali keeps the pace moving briskly and his weaving of unpredictable patterns keeps everyone on their toes. The standard hard bop of Evans' original "Lourana" is pleasant, inspiring the composer to find his inner Lee Morgan, but doesn't quite provide the spark to lift the band as the open ended and exciting Ulmer compositions do. This is a solid slice of free-bop jazz with the concentration on solos rather than on collective improvisation. People who enjoyed the adventurous Blue Note mid 60's recordings by the likes of Sam Rivers or Jackie McLean would probably enjoy this, as well as people who remember the late 1970's Wildflowers loft jazz sessions.
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