Thursday, August 13, 2009

Another Member of the Coltrane Legacy Passes

The death of Les Paul may be receiving all the attention (to the point of receiving air time on BBC World Service Television News); and his memory certainly deserves that attention. However, William Grimes recently reported another significant death on the ArtsBeat blog of The New York Times:

Rashied Ali, whose expressionistic, free-jazz drumming helped define the experimental style of John Coltrane’s final years, died Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 76.

The cause of his death was a heart attack, his wife, Patricia Ali, said.

I know Ali's work primarily from Coltrane's 1965 album Meditations. This was a session in which Coltrane experimented with spatial layout to clarify his instrumentation. In the rhythm section McCoy Tyner's piano and Jimmy Garrison's bass were backed by two drummers, Elvin Jones on the right channel and Ali on the left. Similarly, both Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders were playing tenor sax on the left and right channels, respectively. In addition, each played rhythm against the other's solo work, Sanders playing tambourine and bells and Coltrane playing other percussion instruments. This November 23, 1965 session took place about five months after the Ascension session (June 28, 1965) and had much of the wild spirit that both Coltrane and Sanders had brought to Ascension; but there is now a sense that both of them were beginning to seek out signs of form within the chaos of free jazz. The two drummers who had to back this quest while driving it forward with their own polyrhythmic explorations had their work cut out for them, and Meditations remains a favorite item in my jazz collection. I hope that Ali's death is properly acknowledged by those few who continue to play serious jazz on the radio.

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