Rahied Al Akbar/ Muhammad Ali/Earl Cross/Idris Ackamoor

Ascent of the Nether Creatures NoBusiness NB LP78

By Ken Waxman

Startlingly high-class free jazz from an unheralded quartet of journeymen Americans, Ascent of the Nether Creatures from 1980 confirms that a vociferous audience existed for more experimental sounds despite the supposed dominance of fusion and mainstream jazz.

Certainly no one in this sometimes raggedly recorded club date from somewhere in the Netherlands, was drawn by star power. Best-known member of the group was drummer Muhammad Ali – Rashied’s brother –whose Center of the World band with Frank Wright, Alan Silva and, Bobby Few worked extensively during the ‘70s. Trumpeter Earl Cross recorded with Charles Tyler, Noah Howard and Rashied Ali; saxophonist Idris Ackamoor’s jazz-world music/jazz ensemble The Pyramids has toured slightly-under-the-radar for many years, while virtually nothing is known about bassist Rashied Al Akbar.

Akbar’s full-bodied string-stropping that sometimes features woody cross-strumming, is a constant feature of the session’s four long tracks. But Ali’s spectacular drum accents plus crackling cymbals make the most impact. Holding firm to pre-New Thing accepted formula, a theme is usually stated by unison horns, which eventually also recap it. Enough variables exist in the middle so that there’s always room for Cross’s moderated grace notes or upended triplets plus Ackamoor’s sinewy, excitable alto sax breaks, with the drummer spicing the action with rattles or thumps.

The title tune is also the disc’s showpiece. An atmospheric Art Ensemble of Chicago-like exposition of bell-shaking, string buzzing plus hand-muted brass and trouser-muted sax timbres keeps the narrative simmering on low heat until it detonates a blast that’s divided among tremolo trumpet flutters, bent reed smears, an arpeggio-rich bass solo plus the drummer’s concluding demonstration of restrained crashes and crackles.

The organization of this strong performance shows that avant-garde impulses had permeated the DNA of even less-celebrated players working clubs in the ‘80s. More crucially, a long-drawn-out near-orgasmic squeal from someone present as the quartet concluded its performance corroborates that the audience was enthralled as well.

Tracks: Earl’s Tune; Ascent of the Nether Creatures: Ascent of the Nether Creatures (continues); Evenings; 4 For 1

Personnel: Earl Cross: trumpet; Idris Ackamoor: alto and tenor saxophones; Rashied Al Akbar: bass; Muhammad Ali: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record September 2015