Just a few days after writing my first book review ever–for Brian Jabas Smith’s moving Tucson Salvage–here comes the second: Joris Teepe‘s In the Spirit of Rashied Ali. Well, this isn’t exactly a book as much as an extended set of liner notes, covering bassist Joris Teepe’s years with legendary jazz drummer Ali just before he passed away suddenly of a heart attack in 2009 at the age of 76. But these recollections and interviews of Ali’s bandmates and fellow musicians are delivered in a handsome 66-page hardcover volume with plenty of color photographs and a CD containing many of the tunes Teepe played while he was a member of the Rashied Ali Quintet.
Both Ali and Teepe occupy an interesting niche in jazz history–Ali was John Coltrane‘s last drummer, and Joris Teepe was, as I mentioned, Ali’s last bassist. Both men, therefore, had mentors operating at the highest levels, and it’s fascinating to hear about the Dutch-born Teepe’s tales about learning how to play, coming to New York, and ultimately landing the gig of all gigs. The book builds on his story by interviewing the other musicians who became an integral part of Ali’s story: Wayne Escoffery, Greg Murphy, Jumaane Smith and Sonny Fortune. The final section features an interview with Rashied Ali’s older brother and fellow jazz drummer, Muhammad, and we get a glimpse of their formative years.
The music contained in the CD In the Spirit of Rashied Ali is nothing short of spectacular. Rashied Ali was a free jazz pioneer, but he approached it in away that was easy to absorb and relatively modest when it came to the atonal skirmishes explored by those who came after–particularly Frank Lowe, who also played with Teepe and Ali. Joris Teepe plays the bass in a hard-hitting, precise way that flushes out the chaos and builds an unusually accessible foundation. He includes a fluid medley of Ali’s own compositions, as well as some of the quintet’s favorite tracks from Thelonious Monk, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman and Lowe.
Joris Teepe and writer John Weijer have created something unusual in the world of free jazz–a deeper understanding that is revealed when you read the book while listening to the album. It’s easier to connect the dots and interpret the musicians’ spoken explanations of what was happening under Ali’s tutelage. In the Spirit of Rashied Ali reminds me of those incredible jazz albums of the ’50s and ’60s, and how the back was covered with as much text as possible to explain the frontier lines that were being crossed. A detailed booklet of liner notes isn’t exactly novel these days, but it’s an art form that needs to be preserved–and Joris Teepe has accomplished that.