Ahmed Abdul-Malik ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 5/5

One of the very strongest re-issues ever delivered by Avid and an unexpected collection at that. Bassist, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, is best known for his sideman work with Thelonius Monk. However, he did record a small number of albums and the very best are contained here. The music is divided up between the first CD which concentrates on hard bop with an Eastern flavour, and the two rarer gems, on ‘New Jazz’, where Malik further explores East meets West and it is the latter that are being rediscovered by a new generation of jazz listeners and DJs in search of the exotic. Middle eastern instrumentation greets the listener on ‘Jazz Sahara’, with tenorist Johnny Griffin featuring on the first three numbers. This was merely a first experiment of fusing jazz and Eastern world beats. This is developed more extensively on the second and stronger of the albums, ‘East Meets West’, with an impressive larger brass ensemble including the fiery trumpet of Lee Morgan, the subtle flute of Jerome Richardson, and tenorists Benny Golson and Johnny Griffin, with Curtis Fuller on trombone. An authentic sounding, ‘Isma’a (Listen)’ stands out with a repeated motif on kanoon, and bop-inflected saxophone combining effectively. More experimental again is the first of two Rudy Van Gelder produced albums on New Jazz, with, ‘The music of Ahmed Abdul-Malik’, dating from 1961. Andrew Cyrille and Eric Dixon take the drums and saxophone in a freer direction, with trumpeter Tommy Turrentine unexpectedly pulling out some killer solos on the infectious ‘La Ibky (Don’t Cry)’. A modal bassline on, ‘Nights On Saturn’, with clarinet is another fine métissage of the Orient and world of jazz, with the cello of Calo Scott working in tandem with Malik on oud. Expanded percussion is a guiding feature of the second album on the New Jazz label, ‘Sounds of Africa’, which has a similar line-up with DJs picking up on, ‘Nadsusilma’, which has a strong North African feel with trumpet and oud, while ‘Communication’, is a meandering nine and a half minute number, with the beefed up percussion of Montego Joe, Rudy Collons and Chief Bey, for more of a pan-African atmosphere. Value for money has always been the Avid mantra, but this re-issue stands out as one of the finest jazz-fusion re-issues of the year.

Tim Stenhouse