AHMED ABDUL-MALIK’s MIDDLE-EASTERN MUSIC/with Johnny Griffin
Johnny Griffin (ts) Ahmed Abdul Malik (oud and bass) Naim Karacand (vln) Jack Ghanaim (kanoon) Mike Hamway (darabeka) Bilal Abdurrahman (dul, tambourine) Al Harewood (drs) (omit tenor sax on Side 2, #2)
New York; October, 1958
Ya Annas (Oh, People) (11:23)
Isma’a (listen) (9:13)
El Haris (Anxious) (11:31)
Farah Alaiyna (Joy Upon Us) (7:02)
This album represents the results of fusing elements of the music of the East and American jazz. The creative force behind this unique effort, AHMED ABDUL-MALIK, firmly believes not only that there is a strong, deep-rooted affinity between the two, but also – and even more importantly – that Middle-Eastern music can offer a truly new and vital path along which jazz can progress. Thus this LP may possibly point the way to a whole new direction in musical growth; and at the very least it must be regarded as a tremendously exciting and rather breath-takingly unusual listening experience.
Abdul-Malik is singularly qualified to bridge two musical worlds: born in Brooklyn, but of Sudanese descent, he has studied and played the music of the Arab peoples and the Orient since childhood, and has also been for many years thoroughly involved in the modern-jazz scene – including a long stint as bassist for Thelonious Monk.
The music he has created for this album does not actually come form any one single source. It stems initially from the sort of traditional music that is common, in varying degrees, to North Africa, Egypt, the Sudan, and to the several Arab countries of the area includes Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon. Therefore it can best be described as “Middle-Eastern music.” It is Abdul-Malik’s feeling that such music originally played a more important role than is generally recognized as a pre-jazz influence. (he notes that natives from many parts of the African continent came to America, so that many different cultures – not just the usually-cited Congo and West African – were represented in the initial African contribution to American music.)
Probably the most notably ‘different’ aspect of the material he is working with is that it is completely free of chords as they are known in Western music. And it is precisely this factor that Abdul-Malik sees as most significant for the future of jazz. It is his thesis that the progress of jazz from ragtime through Dixieland and Swing and on to modern jazz has been largely a matter of harmonic development, of the use of “more and more advanced chords.” But this, he suspects, has hone about as far as it can go. Beyond the modern sounds of the mid-‘50s and the work of a musician like Monk, for example, there does not seem to lie any real possibility for much further advancement for any valid substantial new revolution in jazz form or content. (This may very well be a point that is now being underlined by those who are currently concerned with moving jazz over towards the side of Western classical music.)
But to Abdul-Mulik the answer – or at least an answer – lies in the freedoms offered by Middle-Eastern music. In this chord-free music, where a tune does not necessarily follow any rigid conventional pattern of construction in terms of a set number of bars or measures, there can be endless and limitless opportunity for advanced melodic improvisation. There can be room for vast newness within the unhampered framework of this “old” music.
To demonstrate this, he has assembled here a group that includes four highly skilled instrumentalists in the Easter vein: among them are Naim Karacand, and outstanding violinist who has been featured on several recordings of such music for various labels; and Jack Ghanaim and Mike Hamway, who are recognized as among the leaders on, respectively, kanoon and darabeka. To this is added Abdul-Malik himself as a sort of transitional pivot-point (alternating between bass and oud), and also a jazz drummer – Al Harewood, who has worked with such top names as J. J. Johnson – and a tenor sax. Virtually all of the solo burden in demonstrating the potentials of jazz in this setting has been placed on the extremely capable horn of JOHNNY GRIFFIN. Abdul-Malik had worked with Griffin for quite some time in Monk’s quartet; he was strongly impressed both by an “oriental flavor” that he felt in Johnny’s playing and by the tenor man’s improvisational talents. Griffin was deliberately almost literally thrust into this recording with a minimum of advance preparation: on the three extended selections on which he plays, his primary function is to soar freely over and around a continuing Eastern-styled structure, with bass and drums providing a certain amount of familiar guidance. This is probably most explicitly presented on the number tittles Ya Annas, where there is a specific change-over point part way through. At the beginning the emphasis is on the oud (the wooden, lute-like instrument shown in the cover photo), kanoon (a 72-stringed instrument held on the player’s lap), darabeka (a metal vase with skin stretched across the top, some what similar to the Miriam drum of the ancient Palestine) and violin. Then the leader switches to bass, signalling a change in mood and rhythm that leads to Griffin’s entrance. The other numbers also work towards the same goal of integrating a jazz ‘feel’ into the Eastern melodies (which have, to begin with, a great deal of swing of their own), with the final selection, Farah ‘Alaiyna, accomplishing this without use of the jazz horn.
AHMED ABDUL-MALIK was born in January, 1927, and dates the beginning of his interest in music from boyhood, when his father played violin and sang for him. At seven, Ahmed began studying violin, the first of several instruments, including piano and tuba, he has studied. His early performing experience ran a gamut from symphony orchestra to Greek, Syrian and Gypsy weddings.
Moving into jazz circles in the ‘40s, he played with the veteran Fess Williams, Art Blakey, Don Byas and others. During the present decade he has continued to work in varied settings; with Sam (the Man) Taylor, Coleman Hawkins and Randy Weston, with the Middle-Eastern groups of Mohamed el Bakakr and Djmal Aslan, and since 1957 with the Thelonious Monk Quartet. He appeared with Monk on the CBS0TV “Seven Lively Arts” program. With his own Eastern group he has given several concerts in the New York area and has appeared on Dave Carroway’s NBC-TV network show. He continues to study, and to be influenced by “Voice and instruments of the Middle East, Africa and the Far East.” This album – his first as a leader – represents the high point to date in his presentation of his own deeply-felt musical ideas, but he considers it only the first step on a long and challenged road.
Abdul-Malik can be heard on four other Riverside LPs (Griffin is also featured on the first two listed) –
Thelonious Monk in Action: THELONIOUS MONK Quartet (12-262)
Misterioso: THELONIOUS MONK Quartet (12:279)
With These Hands: RANDY WESTON (12:214)
Jazz a la Bohemia: RANDY WESTON (12:232)
Chicago-born JOHNNY GRIFFIN is recognized as one of the most important and inventive of the rich crop of younger tenor men. He has worked with Monk and Blakey, and has led his own groups at Birdland and the Village Vanguard in New York, the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, and several Chicago clubs. In addition to the two Monk albums noted above, his Riverside appearance include –
Way Out: JOHNNY GRIFFIN Quartet (12-274)
JOHNNY GRIFFIN Sextet; with Pepper Adams, Donald Byrd (12-264)
CHET BAKER in New York (12-281)
Branching Out: NAT ADDERLEY (12-285)
Big Six: BLUE MITCHELL (12-273)
The Chicago Sound: WILBUR WARE (12-252)
Blues for Dracula: PHILLY JOE JONES (12-282)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording – Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering
(Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produced by BILL GRAUER
Notes by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover produced and designed by PAUL BACON- KEN BRAREN – HARRIS LEWINE
Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.