The Dynamic Duo - Remember Trane and Bird

Thomas Kohler, AllAboutJazz

Ayler Records has produced another very memorable album: a double CD containing a rare duo performance of Rashied Ali with Arthur Rhames, the saxophonist and pianist (and guitarist) recorded live at the 1981 Willisau Jazz Festival - a concert which I myself had the pleasure to attend. A long time has passed since then, Arthur Rhames died all too young many years ago as well, and my memory of the performance had become rather dim during all those years. - The recording has made everything come alive again for me, and it's quite a discovery to realize just how great this duo was.

They called themselves "The Dynamic Duo", and that's what they were.
The recording quality is still surprisingly good and very enjoyable today, although one can hear in just one or two places that the tapes were not quite in prime condition anymore. Once in a while I felt that the saxophone might be just a little more up front in the mix. Still, all in all this is very much a labor of love and very carefully produced - a real showcase for Ayler records.

The CD set starts unusually: instead of printing the liner notes in the booklet, there is a sixteen-minute spoken introduction to the recordings by Rashied Ali himself. A funny, original idea - only I feel that the spoken text should have been prepared a bit better. There are quite a number of false starts, and at the end Ali even has to add a couple of corrections of certain facts he got wrong the first time. - I suppose this introduction will be listened to once and then skipped later.

The main part of the concert is really a tribute to John Coltrane; then there follow two encores: first a medley in homage to Charlie Parker (in reality a breakneck-tempo rendition of "Cherokee"), then, to wind up the concert, a Rhames original entitled "The Work of the Master".

The Coltrane tribute is altogether an absolutely breathtaking trip through some of Trane's most remarkable and best-known tunes. Throughout the programme there is a lot of marvelous interaction between the two musicians, and fantastic drumming from Ali (who has a very personal way of playing even though sometimes reminiscent of Max Roach's) as well as from Rhames. Rhames sounds very much like later Coltrane on the tenor sax and reminds me strongly of McCoy Tyner when he sits at the piano. The sax playing is often quite relentless but never lacks inspiration. The same goes for Rhames' piano, which can get quite rhapsodic at times when Rhames seems to be carried away by the general great festival atmosphere.
Ali is always there, pushing on and on, supplying his own ideas and working out the ones he gets from his partner. The improvisations are often centered around fragments of the Coltrane tunes, which come up again and again throughout the performance (thus the division into "tunes" is pretty arbitrary); among them "Mr. P.C.", "Giant Steps", "Impressions", three parts of "A Love Supreme", "I Want to Talk About You" and others. One memorable module is "Extra, Extra - Read All About It" - really a chanted introduction of the musicians but used very much like the other, purely instrumental motifs.

Arthur Rhames is/was really one hell of a player, and surprisingly on the tenor sax and the piano alike (I wonder what he sounded like on the guitar, which he apparently also played!). Where would he be today if he were still alive and working?

Anyway, after listening to this CD set you come out exhausted and purified. Definitely not for the weak-hearted, this is a set that any label could be complimented on.