…is not the one we posted yesterday but a much earlier record, from before his conversion to Islam when he was known as Dollar Brand.
African Space Program is the first recording Dollar Brand made with a large group, and the influence of Duke Ellington – who had helped arrange his first recording session around ten years earlier – is strongly evident. It’s essentially two large pieces, and each pairs an elaborate composed movement with a series of lively solos backed by a raucous but tight rhythm section of the great avant garde bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Roy Brooks.
Dollar Brand’s compositional style may suggest the influence of Ellington and of Billy Strayhorn, but his performance as a pianist suggests deeper roots in gospel music and American blues. He had been a member of the Jazz Epistles, the seminal South African jazz group where Hugh Masekela also began, and it was only after African Space Program that African musical traditions began to become more prominent in his playing.
The highlight of the album is the series of solos that make up the second part of “Tintiyana”. Along with his longtime altoist/flautist Carlos Ward, who was introduced in yesterday’s post, the band is one of the most interesting Abdullah Ibrahim would ever lead, featuring trumpeters Cecil Bridgewater and Enrico Rava, saxophonists Sonny Fortune and Roland Alexander (who plays the harmonica solo on the track you’ll hear today), and a young baritone saxophone player named Hamiet Bluiett. He had already played with Sam Rivers and Charles Mingus, and would soon co-found the World Saxophone Quartet. Bluiett (“Blue-et”) is widely considered one of the greatest baritone sax players in jazz.
African Space Program is, sadly, poorly recorded. The composed section of “Titiyana” sounds harsh and noisy, undermining a piece that is as much in the vein of Neal Hefti’s sophisticated short arrangements as Ellington’s extended works. The poor recording quality lends a certain honesty to the solos, however, making the album seem a little rawer and more exciting.
(“Titiyana part 2″)