Francisco Mora Catlett ‘Mora! I & II’ 2xLP/CD (Far Out Recordings) 5/5

Fransisco Mora Catlett’s rare 1986 Afro-Latin private press LP ‘Mora!’ enjoys a welcome release from Far Out Recordings. Alongside this highly sought-after album is the previously unreleased sequel recording which was never released on vinyl, then shelved, and only ever released much later on CD via a small record label. Both albums have long been considered holy grails of Afro-Latin Jazz and showcase the originality and avant-garde approach to Latin music that seems to elude the traps of time. The time spent with Sun Ra’s band may have been an important factor in guiding Fransisco towards his desired path of creativity and originality. Prior to a fruitful 7-year engagement with the Arkestra the Mexican-American percussionist studied composition at the Berklee College of Music, and this stands out over the course of the two albums. Thoughts of artists such as Jerry Gonzalez, Hilton Ruiz and other progressive Latin artists spring to mind on listening to both albums although the unique sound across both recordings are multi-layered and pan American in scope, crossing wide areas of Afro-Latin ancestry which connects to Fransisco’s heritage. The voice of the music is emotive, progressive and deeply connected with a celebratory feel that ebbs and flows throughout the journey. Batucada, Afro-Cuban, Sambas and Latin-jazz, Haitian and Native American motifs are all woven into the story that begins with a tropical soundscape on the first part of ‘Mora !’; the Prelude.

A fortunate chance meeting with Sun Ra in Mexico City after the three years studying composition at Berklee Music College changed the percussionist’s trajectory and Sun Ra’s offer to join the Arkestra was accepted by the percussionist composer. Touring with Sun Ra for approximately 7 years would prove to be an important and creative period for Fransisco, playing alongside many formidable progressive artists including John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Marshall Allen and other members of the Arkestra. Marcus Belgrave and Max Roach further supported the percussionist’s avant-garde afro-future approach in future years with some important connections on the Detroit jazz scene adding weight and context to the percussionist’s creative freedom and musical direction.

Contemporary soul/techno collaborations with Carl Craig and Craig Taborn on the Detroit Experiment project in 2002 and Innerzone Orchestra’s ‘Programmed’ album in 1999 created greater awareness for the music of Fransisco Mora Catlett and this was further exemplified five years later in 2004 when the Dutch-based Kindred Spirits record label released the excellent 12” ‘Amazona’, leading to a welcome bridge between the generations of collectors and DJs. Backtrack to 1999 again and the percussionist’s ‘World Trade Music’ CD-only release, was voted jazz album of the year and featured music recorded over a 10 year period including the composition ‘Cultural Warrior’ which was originally recorded for the ‘Mora!’ album. ‘World Trade Music’ was an important release as it really gave many listeners an introduction to the genius of the percussionist composer who had been under the radar for so long.

On the first album, joining Francisco Mora on Drums and Percussion are Emile Borde: Steel Drums and Percussion, Vincent Bowens: Soprano/Tenor Saxophones and Flute, Ken Cox: Piano, Jerome Le Duff: Berimbau and Percussion, Teresa Mora: Vocal and Percussion, Alberto Nacif: Quinto, Congas and Percussion and Rodney Whitaker: Contrabass. The shelved part 2 album featured the added brass section with Marcus Belgrave – Sherman Mitchell: Trombone, Trumpet, John Douglass – Trumpet and Flugel Horn and Alex Harding – Baritone Sax and Bass Clarinet.

On the first part of the two album journey, a tropical scene is set with the sounds of nature adding context to the story. The 12 minute ‘Afra Jum’ is a wonderful jazz slanted Afro-Latin track that explores the melodies of African and Native American history with real sensitivity and rich arrangement. The track appears again on ‘Mora II’ and it’s a really interesting comparison with the addition of the brass section on the latter version.

The driving ‘Rumba Morena’ is an uplifting piece with pianist Kenny Cox sharing centre stage with Franssico’s percussion and Emile Borde on steel drums. ‘Five A.M’ is a straight-ahead jazz number with saxophonist Vincent Bowens and pianist Kenny Cox playing off each other, whilst ‘Samba de Amor’ is a heavy samba with the percussion, steel drums, soprano saxophone, percussive keys and harmonizing vocals all adding to this energetic and memorable piece. The track featured on Kevin Beadle’s excellent compilation ‘Private Collection volume 3’ amidst some other great rare selections. Highly recommended!

‘Cultural Warrior’ offers a change of pace with the emphasis on a slower emotive feel. Kenny Cox’s melodic side takes centre stage at the beginning of the track. Vincent Bowens adds his own spark on tenor and the track has a slight Coltrane feel about it. The album is neatly rounded off with a buoyant percussive epilogue that brings the context back into focus.

The sequel album opens with a shorter punchier version of ‘Afra Jum’ featuring the legendary Marcus Belgrave joined by Sherman Mitchell and Alex Harding in the brass section. Throughout the sequel album, the brass section adds a complementary alternative sound to the first part and this is exemplified on the weightier versions of ‘Afra Jum’ and the samba track ‘Conga Do Amor’. One of the highlights is the uptempo samba jazz number ‘Amazona’ featuring vocalist Teresa Mora. The piece has featured on various high profile compilations on labels including Kindred Spirits and P-Vine and the track was a real hit on its release in 2004, featuring not just the original version but a Carl Craig edit.

These two excellent albums are important pieces that were so rare and are full of incredible music. An essential purchase!

Mark Jones