Given the names of the quartet and the album and the album’s cover art, one could be excused for expecting free jazz with mystical overtones. Instead, one gets hard bop that goes out a bit, which, while firmly rooted in the classic 50s and 60s sound (indeed, the album’s 42-minute playing time is another reminder of the LP era), makes itself insidiously attractive thanks to catchy tunes, crafty structures, the soloists’ contrasting personalities and the unfailing solidity and dynamism of the rhythm team of leader Lloyd Haber and Jaribu Shahid.
Haber is the album’s sole composer, and his tunes are surprisingly melodic for a drummer: The tracks are memorable and create distinct atmospheres. “In the Thick Of It” opens the album with a happy, funky vamp-based line, while “Monking Around” is slow, lyrical and easygoing, made bluesy more by tempo and feel than form or harmony. Haber also likes to set up some rhythmic challenges: “Kimbunga”‘s start-stop, motif-stuffed theme is constantly shifting gears. This shifting nearly overwhelms trumpeter Omar Kabir’s solo, so, when his turn comes, guest altoist Douglas Yates approaches the problem differently, tearing into the piece like Eric Dolphy and twisting the chords into gnarled wrecks. “Sweet Tooth”‘s use of a heavily modified and meter-hopping blues form and the wonderful melodic paths offered to the soloists by “Love of Illusion”‘s chord progressions show other facets of Haber’s writing skills.
The frontline of tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton and trumpeter Omar Kabir offers contrasting views of the hard- and post-bop traditions. The latter’s sound is perfectly centered and precise, derived from the inevitable cabinet of Brown, Morgan and Hubbard. The former comes from freer roots: On-edge and off-center intonation adds urgency to his playing, but Burton retains earthiness by dipping into R&B on the punchy staccato closer “Time Share”, getting romantic on “Monking Around” or taking it to church on the bass/tenor introduction to “Spirits of New York”, a spiritual that erupts into collective improvisation. Jaribu Shahid is his usual solid and swinging self, with a funky, in-the-pocket feel to his solos. Though the leader doesn’t take any extended solos, he doesn’t need to: His compositions and active accompaniment make this a worthwhile set that deftly avoids the pitfall of lifeless retread.