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Rashied Ali is perhaps best known for his work on John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space, the landmark free-jazz sax-and-drums duet. Ali’s long and productive post-Coltrane career included about two dozen albums as a leader or co-leader. Regardless of context, Ali maintained the expressionistic style he established with Coltrane, says Dutch-born bassist Joris Teepe, who played in Ali’s quintet for nine years, until the drummer’s death in 2009 at age 76.
“When I joined his group, I didn’t really know about the way he played,” Teepe says by phone from Amsterdam. “That style of music was really new to me. But it really opened up my mind to the emotional part more than the craftsmanship of being a musician.”
Teepe reflects on his musical evolution on his latest album, In the Spirit of Rashied Ali (Jazztribes). Teepe assembled a sextet for the recording that features three saxophonists, including Wayne Escoffery, as well as guitarist Freddie Bryant and drummer John Betsch. Among the eight pieces are a pair of Teepe compositions, a pair of Monk tunes (Ali was a big fan) and “Rashied Ali Suite,” a medley of five Ali compositions. There’s a relaxed, self-possessed quality to these pieces, even when the music ventures into more abstract territory. In that sense, the album isn’t so much a re-creation of the Ali quintet as it is a response to it — a melding of Teepe’s mainstream jazz inclinations and Ali’s free-jazz spirit.
“I didn’t want to play that same music and just copy what we did with a different drummer,” Teepe says. “This is really more a product of how I see myself right now, and it’s heavily focused on the influence he had on me. Everything I did after meeting Rashied was different.”
The music isn’t the only tribute to Ali: The CD comes as part of a package that includes a 60-page hardcover book. Written by Jazztribes founder John Weijers, it includes interviews with Teepe, former Ali collaborators such as Jumaane Smith, and Ali’s widow, Patricia. “He started to write some liner notes and it just got out of control,” Teepe quips.
Teepe had recorded four albums after Ali’s death, but his path inevitably led him back to the man he regards as a father figure. “What I learned from making this CD is that it’s still there — it’s still in me to play the way we used to play back then,” Teepe says. “[Rashied] told me that if John was still alive, he would still be his drummer. He had that connection with Coltrane so deeply. And I’ve been telling people that if Rashied were alive, I’m sure I’d still be his bass player.” —John Frederick Moore
Featured photo by J. Kruger.