Faruq Z. Bey with Northwoods Improvisers - Ashirai Pattern
Faruq Z. Bey with Northwoods Improvisers - Azuar ' Live at CMU Park Library Auditorium
Griot Galaxy - Live at the D.I.A.

[Entropy Stereo, www.entropystereo.com]

Poet, musician, Griot Galaxy founder Faruq Z. Bey has been busy putting music down to tape recently. These three releases outline his ferocious style and his beastly drive.

The love affair between Northwoods Improvisers and Faruq Z. Bey has bloomed into a multi disc, on-going marriage. 'Ashirai Pattern' is one of the best examples of similar minds sharing their wealth of knowledge and applying it in practice. Northwood Improvisers have been going strong now for a long while, and their warm, organic style of music pulls the listener in from the start [their ASC CDs ' 'Fog and Fire' and 'Spinning' are excellent and are a must for any serious fan of improvised music]. Though Mike Johnston's acoustic bass groundwork is marvellous ' as the rhythm pounds with warm precision and his solos when they appear are always welcome ' it's Mike Gilmore's vibe work that has always pulled me back into their music. Steady, intricate and adventurous all at once, the vibes seems to just burst to life under his command. In fact, I can't remember the last time I was this excited about a vibe player ' ever. Then we get Faruq's wonderful spicing on the saxes and flute. Sure he can play fast and ferocious solos, but it's the robustfully gentle [meaning ' gentle but now wimpy] tenor work that has my ears standing at attention. Some will say this ensemble has not reinvented jazz. Perhaps not. [Then again, how many groups do you know that are brave enough to cover Sun Ra's 'Shadow World' and at the end of the piece be left holding their heads up high!] Whatever the case may be, their soulful, earthly sound guarantees I will return to this record often.

'All music is acoustic' is a claim on 'Auzar', Northwoods Improvisers' latest CD. This is a claim they had made on every possible occasion in the past. Definitively, this is a climate they work best in. Without argument, their warm style lends itself to a purely acoustic environment the best. 'Gemini' is a ferocious way to start off any record. With its blend of late-Coltrane styling, Mike Carey and Faruq Z. Bey engage in a vicious duel that lasts most of the piece. It's interesting to hear how Mike Gilmore tries to slip in his marimba styling beneath this man-made tornado. Though the mix gets a little bit rough around the edges, you can still catch most of his attempts. Like a drowning man, Gilmore's haunting vibes and marimba work make an excellent effort and in the end survive the weathering storm. The record itself [as any Northwoods Improvisers record] has this driving rhythm to it, this sense of direction that is just so catchy and infectious.

What also excites me about this particular release is Nick Ashton's restrained percussion that seems to always provide the right colouring to the band's palette. Always resolute, always exciting and most of all, always musically confrontational, 'Azuar' is another fine example of a band deserving wider recognition.

Criminally under-recorded, Griot Galaxy's catalogue is not exactly bursting at the seems. Having played and recorded with everyone from Sun Ra, to Abdullah Ibrahim and Roscoe Mitchell, it is high time that there be a proper document of this phenomenal band's live sound. 'Live at the D.I.A.' gives us a complete performance from the band's peak in 1983, and as always, the band delivers the goods. The fiery sound of Faruq Z. Bey's horn is ever present. There are peaks and then there are peaks and when the three horn line-up ' Faruq Z. Bey, Anthony Holland and David McMurray ' go on a tangent, you know it's a mighty high hill they just climbed. Ferocious blowing from all three makes most of the pieces here real gems. But Griot Galaxy is more than just a ferocious horn-blowing band. They're actually heavy on percussion, which along with Tani Tabbal's first-rate percussive mastery; the band also enlisted the help of Marz Society [Sadiq Bey, Fahali Igbo and Tani Tabbal]. It's only a shame that their infectious heavy rhythm stunts are only heard on one piece. Their takes on Sun Ra's 'Spectrum' and 'Shadow World' are intense and memorable. [In fact, I can't think of a better ensemble to be covering Sun Ra's work.] Simply put, this is some of the most authentic music for a plastic world.

Tom Sekowski

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