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NOAH HOWARD: The Black Ark CD (Bo’Weavil) – I???m a big fan of the almost criminally under recorded and under appreciated alto saxophonist, Noah Howard. Ever since first hearing the Eremite reissue of ???Patterns/Message to South Africa???, I???ve scoured the ???net and the racks to purchase any of Howard???s all too few titles I could find (even scoring rare original vinyl issues of some releases such as ???Space Dimension???!), but ???The Black Ark??? remained elusive. And it was one of his most intriguing titles, too, with that colorful psychedelic cover and an excellent cast of supporting musicians that included Sirone (who was then still going under the name Norris Jones and is excellent throughout this disc) and (in his recording debut) Arthur Doyle. Recorded in 1969 in NYC and later released on the UK???s Freedom label, this was also one of Howard???s earlier releases as a leader. Now, the fine folks at Bo???Weavil have ended my quest with this welcome reissue of ???The Black Ark???.
This album features four solid compositions by Howard, who is also excellent on alto throughout, whether crafting soulful themes or pursuing more aggressive solos. While it has its moments, most notably the solos by Howard and pianist Leslie Waldron (Howard often leaves a lot of space for/relies on the contributions of the excellent pianists who have graced his recordings), the opening track ???Domiabra??? is, overall, a somewhat rough and less than fully satisfying initial shakedown for the group. The disc???s best track ???Ole Negro??? is next. It features the expanded rhythm section (Rashid???s brother, Muhammad Ali, on drums and Juma on conga, along with the piano and bass) laying down an incredible, almost hallucination producing foundation for the soloists. The other real winner on this CD is the longest piece ???Mount Fuji???, which contains trumpeter Earl Cross and Doyle???s most significant contributions and some fine free ensemble playing (vaguely reminiscent of Coltrane???s ???Ascension???) in the segments which connect the solos. The album???s closing track, the pleasant, but all too brief ???Queen Anne???, is highlighted by the solos of Waldron and Howard.
Like many similar releases from the period on labels such as ESP, BYG/Actuel, and so on, both the performances and the recording quality on this disc are, at times, somewhat uneven. Nevertheless, the music contained on this CD represents another interesting and appreciated document from a seminal era in the development of free jazz that richly deserves further exposure to a wider audience. DL
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