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A top sideman with Monk and Herbie Mann, bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik must have realized that if he remained parochial it would result in complacency. Early in his career, he chose to explore his Sudanese roots and an association with pianist Randy Weston, known for his own Afro-Jazz blending, perhaps nourished this inclination. During these inquiries, he mastered the oud (a stringed instrument for the Arab world which is the equivalent in popularity to the guitar and piano combined for us here in the West), and in 1958 released Jazz Sahara, the first of six LPs that are primordial examples of Mideastern/African infused jazz.
Subsequently, Abdul-Malik was recruited for the 1961 Village Vanguard sessions to augment the Eastern essence of John Coltrane's "India." That same year, The Music of Ahmed Abdul- Malik was released, followed by 1962's Sounds of Africa. Engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, both sessions are packaged together here as Jazz Sounds of Africa.
The '61 session is the more majestic for its deceptive simplicity. Commencing with the crisp sound of "young" Brooklyn drummer Andrew Cyrille's cymbals and snare, an intriguing rhythm is set up for the captivating instrumentation of "Nights on Saturn." Bilal Abdurrahman plays an unknown Korean reed instrument off the still modern sounding percussion to alert the listener of things in store. "La Ibkey" has Cyrille drumming in 7/4 while oud, trumpet and cello alternatively solo in a disparate signature. "Oud Blues" is as its title suggests, while "Don't Blame Me" places Scott front and center over a wonderfully restrained drum and bass rhythm for an uncommon example of early jazz cello. "Hannibal's Carnivals" and "The Hustlers" begin with a West African Highlife welcome that soon gives way to the straight ahead sax of Basie tenor man Eric Dixon. Both pieces stylistically oscillate and present a multicultural celebratory feast.
Remaining cuts continue the previous year's explorations with a greatly expanded rhythmic feel, courtesy of percussionists Montego Joe and Chief Bey. "Communication" bears special mention for its extended trance-like percussion workout, while "Suffering," the CD closer, is timeless. A hypnotic brass and percussive rhythm is joined by Abdul-Malik's driving bass as Calo Scott plays an out-of-tune violin. Rupert Alleyne's flute lends a distinctive African feel and then gives way to a halting oud and ensuing trumpet. Scott then brings things full circle in more ways than one. With this release, these historically important and presently influential sessions have finally been given their due.