Melodic Art-Tet | No Business Records

Charles Brackeen – flute, soprano and tenor saxophones | Ahmed Abdullah – trumpet | William Parker – bass | Roger Blank – drums | Tony Waters (Ramadan Mumeen) – percussion

Recorded on 15th October, 1974 at WKCR, New York City. All compositions by Charles Brackeen, except “Time and Money” by Ahmed Abdullah. Original session engineered by Joe Walker / Original session produced by Roger Blank and Joe Walker. Photos © Raymond Ross Archives / CTSIMAGES. Mastering by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Design by Oskaras Anosovas. Booklet layout by Jeff DiPerna, tabula rasa graphic design. Produced by Danas Mikailionis. Co-producers – Ed Hazell and Valerij Anosov

Track list LP Side A: 1. Before Heaven and Earth and the World 2. Face of the Deep Side B:  1. Above the Cross  2. My Divine Side C: 1. Time and Money 2. YAMACA 3. Open 4. Pit Chena Side D: 1. In the Chapel 2. With Cheer 3. Redemption 4. Consecration

Tracklist CD: 1. Before Heaven and Earth and the World 2. Face of the Deep 3. Above the Cross 4. My Divine 5. Time and Money 6. YAMACA 7. Open 8. Pit Chena 9. In the Chapel 10. With Cheer 11. Redemption 12. Consecration

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7 thoughts on “Melodic Art-Tet | No Business Records

  1. Although according to detractors, all free-jazz sessions sound alike, these high-quality dates from 1974 and 1986 put a lie to that supposition. Both also suggest why the music was never popular. Each CD shares trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah and features all stars. 1974’s Melodic Art-Tet included reedist Charles Brackeen, drummer Roger Blank, bassist William Parker and percussionist Tony Waters (Ramadan Mumeen). 1986’s The Group was saxophonist Marion Brown, violinist Billy Bang, bassists Sirone or Fred Hopkins plus drummer Andrew Cyrille.

    Brackeen, who composed all but one of the Art-Tet’s pieces, enlivened many ‘70s sessions. A gritty soloist on tenor, with a tone reminiscent of Dewey Redman’s, his flute and soprano work is surprisingly refined. Meanwhile the trumpeter manages to stay passionate while blasting away. Former Arkestra member Blank and future Downtown fixture Parker maintain a shifting beat tinted by Waters’ hand patterning. Triumphant throughout, the quartet forges an imaginative fusion. It mixes nimble heads with frenetic soloing and Africanized polyrhythmic drumming without neglecting tune structure. “Time and Money; YAMACA; Open; Pit Chena; In the Chapel; With Cheer” is particularly illustrative. A marvel of shading and synthesis, violent screeds alternate with tempo-changing sequences that pulsate with near-hummable themes to moderate confrontational avant-garde impulses. Unfortunately the fusion preferred in the mid-‘70s was jazz-rock, propelled by amplified instruments. Too arty for the mainstream and not electric enough for the groove crowd, the band passed into history,

    The Group suffered a similar fate 12 years later. Neo-bop had replaced fusion as the popular jazz genre, but this quintet was too outside. This was despite Live’s track list, which included Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” plus Bang’s arrangement of a Miriam Makeba [!] composition. Clearly The Group aimed to excite a live audience. Take the Mingus tune. Before the familiar melody appears, Brown interpolates quotes from “Wade in the Water” and “Honky Tonk”; subsequent theme variations are shaded by Abdullah’s muted plunger tones plus Bang’s bottleneck guitar-like slashes. Likewise on Makeba’s “Amanpondo”, Bang’s torque builds up the tension while Cyrille provides the tune’s climax with a solo that defines a steady swing beat.

    Luck and circumstances determine which bands become famous. Despite overall excellence, destiny was on neither band’s side here. Both were too far behind or too far ahead for contemporary popularity.

  2. Once again the Lithuanian No Business label has unearthed a little known relic from the lower strata of NYC’s loft jazz era. Like The Group’s Live (No Business, 2013), the previous beneficiary of the imprint’s ongoing investigation, the Melodic Art-Tet never officially recorded so this 1974 broadcast tape from WKCR represents the only surviving fragment of their work. The clue’s in the name. Not everything in the movement breathed fire, and the Melodic Art-Tet reaffirms the evidence of bassist William Parker’s stunning Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987 (No Business, 2012) that other strategies were pursued with equal vigor.

    As drummer Roger Blank explains in Val Wilmer’s seminal As Serious As Your Life (Da Capo, 1977), part of the group’s ethos was to avoid screeching and hollering in order to entice an audience with well-rehearsed accessible music. At the core of the co-operative’s sound lies the contrast between reed man Charles Brackeen’s keening legato abstractions, and trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah’s Don Cherry-like amalgam of boppish phrases and folkloric melodies. Brackeen, who contributed most of the charts, possesses a raw edge whether on tenor or soprano saxophone, though he is least well-served by the sound quality, often evoking the nasal pitch of an oboe. On bass William Parker proves an irrepressible combination of the conversational and the propulsive, making it easy to see why he soon became so ubiquitous. For his part Blank displays a clear debt to Ed Blackwell in his tunefulness and attention to structure.

    In performance the band runs tunes together into mini-suites, following the template set by Cherry for what he termed his cocktails, with the pieces separated by brief percussion or ensemble interludes. Generally the themes tend to be straightforward, proceeding in an amiable groove, sometimes with the horns in counterpoint, most effectively at the start of “In the Chapel/With Cheer/Redemption/Consecration” which pitches spiraling soprano against lyrical trumpet. Some of the most dramatic junctures come when Parker takes up his bow, as in the second part of “Before Heaven and Earth and the World/ Face of the Deep” where his yelping arco intertwines with the front line, or early in “Time and Money/ YAMACA/ Open/ Pit Chena” when bickering tenor and trumpet mingle with his fractious sawing. Clocking in at 79-minutes the session, available as a single CD or double LP, is perhaps too much to absorb at one sitting. But while the band’s style may not be as distinctive as others from the period, it nonetheless allows further valuable insight into the diversity on offer during a key moment in the music’s history.

  3. The Melodic Art-tet was an inspired band from the ’70s that never quite got the recognition it deserved. A full-length WKCR broadcast from October, 1974 (No Business CD 56) tells the story with a full 80-minutes of music. The band by then consisted of Charles Brackeen on flute, soprano and tenor saxophones, Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet, William Parker on bass, Roger Blank on drums and Tony Waters (Ramadan Mumeen) on percussion. Now that is a heavy gathering, so you would expect high-level Afro-New-York modernity at its finest.

    And you get it. Charles Brackeen, Ahmed Abdullah and William Parker are the kind of soloists you can expect lots of great invention from, and they do not disappoint. The rhythm section of Mr. Parker, Roger Blank and Tony Waters combined makes up the sort of conjunction where you expect the feel to be strong. And again this date has all of that.

    But of course this was a band that worked on compositional ideas too, getting the concept-composition and surrounding, freely articulated improvising to mesh beautifully. It’s a band that had intertwined both elements in ways that stand out, now as then. All the compositions are by Brackeen save one, which is by Abdullah. They work so well with the band that this long set seems to go by in a flash.

    The music is great and the band is very much a single unified thing. Everyone however is outstanding. Brackeen, Abdullah and Parker by then had become masters, Blank a drumming dynamo of the first caliber, Waters an excellent percussionist. There are some fired up moments when Ahmed Abdullah really takes off that especially stay in my mind afterwards, but it’s all good. And so they excel as a group and as themselves, so that five plus you equals one when you are listening.

    An excellent date. We are fortunate that the session is coming to light. Highly recommended.

  4. This fascinating archival album captures a live in the studio performance by a collective group featuring Charles Brackeen on flute, soprano and tenor saxophones, Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet, William Parker on bass, Roger Blank on drums and Tony Waters (Ramadan Mumeen) on percussion. This performance was recorded in 1974 at the beginning of the loft scene in New York City and shows how the group takes a wide range of jazz history from hard bop to free jazz and melds it into a language of their own. There are four lengthy improvisations on this album, the third of which encompasses an ambitious five part suite (Time and Money>YAMACA>Open Pit>Chena In the Chapel With Cheer) which develops a number of individual motifs that give the players plenty of improvisational opportunities. Brackeen’s tone and playing are reminiscent of some of Albert Ayler’s quieter moments with his saxophone quivering and probing in space before developing a more cohesive improvisation. Abdullah makes for an excellent foil (as well as writing excellent liner notes for this release) and the rhythm team ties it all together. This was a well done archival release that explores a corner of the music scene that is not well mapped while at the same time shining much needed light on unappreciated musicians.

  5. No Business have done a masterful job of documenting free jazz’s vital, but often neglected Loft Movement, and this 1974 radio session is a real find, allowing a remarkable group to finally be heard. Formed by saxophonist Charles Brackeen, fresh from his debut album Rhythm X and Sun Ra Arkestra drummer Roger Blank, the Melodic Art-Tet was conceived, according to trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, as ‘an instrumental approach striving to embrace communication among the good angels in humanity’. Brackeen provides some striking melodic themes, which form the basis for collective improvisations. ‘Before Heaven and Earth …’ marches in like Albert Ayler’s Village Vanguard quartet, before the musicians wander off in crab-like improv moves, eventually surfacing somewhere between Africa and Saturn, as the melody is reworked into Sun Ra exotica. Blank is hugely engaging throughout, laying swinging tom grooves under Brackeen and Abdullah’s spiralling exchanges and the young William Parker’s urgent bowed bass.

  6. En 2013 el sello lituano NoBussiness Records publica el disco homónimo de Melodic Art-Tet. Una obra grabada en 1974, que inexplicablemente ha permanecido sin publicar durante casi cuarenta años.

    El Melodic Art-Tet pertenece a la escena neoyorkina de los lofts, activa durante gran parte de la década de los años 70. Tras sus inicios a principios de 1970, esta formación se asentó en un formato de cuarteto integrado por el saxofonista y flautista Charles Brackeen -de quien surgió la idea de formar un grupo que devendría en el Melodic Art-Tet-, el trompetista Ahmed Abdullah, el baterista Roger Blank y el contrabajista Ronnie Boykin, que en la época de esta grabacion ya habia sido sustituido por William Parker. En esta grabación registrada en los estudios de la emisora de la Columbia University les acompañó el percusionista Tony Waters (Ramadan Mumeem).

    El grupo hace honor a su nombre a lo largo de los 70 minutos, en los que suenan doce composiciones, que todas salvo una son obra de Charles Brackeen. Su música entronca con el free que había emergido en la década anterior, pero teniendo en las melodías un componente fundamental. Entre ellas las de reminiscencia ayleriana tienen un papel destacado. Son varios las temas que recuerdan a algunas de las creaciones del tercer integrante de la santísima trinidad del free. Esas melodías sencillas y atractivas, con un carácter casi folklórico, sirven como una plataforma ideal para los solos de Brackeen y de un espléndido Ahmed Abdullah a la trompeta. William Parker y Roger Blank aparecen en un papel secundario en cuanto a los solos -no tanto por su ausencia sino por su brevedad-, aunque como sección rítmica se imponen como una máquina implacable, imprescindibles para que la música presente una lógica y coherencia inapelables.

  7. The New York free jazz scene of the 1970s, commonly known as “the Loft Era”, was a time during which musicians seem to have rehearsed more often than they secured gigs, and recordings with major labels were practically non-existent. Before various European labels such as Soul Note/Black Saint began to record this music – from the late 1970s – the only recordings were releases on small independent labels, of which many of the master tapes have long since been lost, or dissolved; hence very few re-releases on CD. The harsh economics and politics of this time, as well as the music, are considered in Valerie Kilmer’s “As Serious as your Life – the Story of the New Jazz” (Quartet Books, 1977), and many of the issues remained after the end of the Loft Era, as seen in Ebba Jahn’s film: “Rising Tones Cross”, from 1984.

    In the last few years, Danas Mikailionis of Lithuiania’s NoBusiness Records, has made it his business to redress this chronic under representation, in important releases of music from the 1970s and 1980s, such as “The Group – Live”; “Billy Bang’s Survival Ensemble – Black Man’s Blues / New York Collage”; “Commitment: the Complete Recordings – 1981/1983”; “Muntu Recordings”; and the glorious 6 CD set: “William Parker “Centering. Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987”.

    The latest addition is a session by the Melodic Art-tet broadcast by Columbia University’s WKCR in October, 1974. The quartet: (on this occasion joined by Tony Waters on percussion) was a relatively stable unit for some four years, although the young Parker had joined in the year of this recording, towards the end of its existence.

    The dominant influences at this time were John Coltrane and Albert Ayler (both of whom had passed away relatively recently); and Ornette Coleman (who had not yet gone Harmolodic). Although some musicians had sought to push the “Fire Music” of late Coltrane to an even greater intensity, this was not the only way. As the name suggests, the quartet was more concerned with working out, patiently and carefully, the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic implications of that pioneering body of work, from within the Jazz Tradition. As drummer Roger Blank put it to Wilmer: “I respect what the older musicians have done. I still maintain that in the beauty and glory of all these five or six people coming together on a bandstand, they still have to have a pulse. They still have to breath and relate to that. Like in some parts of the so-called “new music”, in a sense it’s like a monkey throwing paint on the canvas. But it’s an incubator. We have to be able to distinguish between what’s got the pulse and what just palpitates.”

    And Blank clearly has the pulse in the opening “Before Heaven and Earth and the World”, with it’s Aylerish marching band theme, supported by his tattoos and springing rhythms, over which Brackeen – who composed all the numbers bar one – is full of smears and splits notes, as he takes the tune apart. The most obvious lineage is from Coleman’s Atlantic quartet. Blank studied with Ed Blackwell and much of Parker’s work here is clearly indebted to Charlie Haden. Even at this early age, his long-range harmonic patterns and counter-rhythms, which compliment rather than just echo the contours of the theme, are already apparent. Ayler is suggested in Brakeen’s irascible tenor, and some of his and Abdullah’s solos, where they jump between contrasting registers, intermittently quoting fragments of the tune back at themselves.

    Of course, comparisons can be facile, even limiting, and jazz is not the only inspiration: “Face of the Deep”, with Parker’s high arco, Brakeen’s mizmar sounding soprano, and Blank’s tom-tom patterns, has a Moroccan tinge to it, and in “My Divine” African rhythms predominate, as the band settle into a blues groove; “With Cheer” is a Caribbean-like tune. In these post-modernist times, we are used to music that seeks a synthesis of influences and cultures – it is perhaps, something of a cliché – but in 1974 this was still newly explored territory. The Art-et deftly integrates these inspirations into its own sound, so that we hear appreciative allusions, rather than citations.

    And most importantly, there’s a real joy in the music making, full of telling details. “Redemption/Consecration” opens with Abdullah’s sweet gospel phrases over Brakeen’s warbling soprano and Parker’s languid bowing. There follows a skittish duet between soprano and bass, before the main theme returns, with an urgent and tense trumpet solo; the theme is repeated, dirge-like, avoiding clean unison phrases, before Brakeen takes off on tenor over Parker’s shifting walking bass, followed by a solo from trumpet until the fade out.

    There are times when things meander a little, with an air of uncertainly as to where to go next, or if it’s time to segue into the next tune, but that’s the price to be paid when improvising in this way. Experiments are sometimes inconclusive, but they form part of the process of understanding where the music can be taken; what works and what doesn’t. Freed from the constraints of fixed choruses, other boundaries need to be pushed and measured. The quartet is not aiming for the conclusive, however – particularly in a performance never intended for release – but something that on occasions might be out of reach; which is why this music retains its vitality.

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