Alan Silva, Unity

Charles Farrell

By Charles Farrell

on 05.09.13 in Reviews

I can’t say whether the American and U.S.-based jazz musicians who decamped in Europe during the last part of the ’60s and stuck around for a decade or so made any money, but they sure sounded like they were having a lot of fun. Unity is a live party album — a kicking-and-screaming, avant-garde, free-for-all. When it was first released in 1974, it was issued under the name of tenor saxophonist Frank Wright. No matter; this band is an entirely equal partnership. Wright, bassist Alan Silva, pianist Bobby Few and drummer Muhammad Ali are true brothers in arms. And though it’s broken up into separate tracks, it’s meant to be played in its entirety.

A kicking-and-screaming, avant-garde, free-for-all

Unity consists of five parts, and it’s almost entirely aggressive throughout. But the nature of the aggression is celebratory, and nearly humorous in many spots. The audience is clearly pumped up, and the band members spend a lot of time whooping and hollering. Still, once they get down to business (which takes them about a minute), they become a furious ensemble, with Few tearing into the keys, Wright wailing over him, and Silva and Ali boiling underneath.


Alan Silva

Most players would have trouble sustaining this pace, but this kind of intensity is home ground for the quartet; there’s a cauldron-like center to this music, and each of the players is capable of feeding off it. “Part I” morphs into a strange Asian/polka blend, culminating in Wright’s emphatic honks. In “Part ll,” Muhammad Ali takes over. His playing is reminiscent of his brother Rashied’s (who’s best known for having replaced Elvin Jones in the John Coltrane group), but is more linear.

The band reenters in “Part lll,” with Wright now on soprano. They move into a modal section. Late-period Coltrane again comes to mind here; this is the music with which all four members of the group most closely identify, and they play the idiom with assurance. In a sense, they play it with more assurance than Trane himself did, since they are more comfortable moving the music toward total freedom than Coltrane was. This section, possibly the most fervent, is followed in “Part lV” by a spacey combination of chanting, arco bass by Silva, and highly vocalized saxophone, fueled by Few’s bashing pentatonic chords and Ali’s splashy cymbals. “Part V” is not entirely serious: People laugh and cheer, the band returns to the polka motif of earlier (sans Asian elements at first), and out they go in this vein, picking up muscle on the way toward the finish line. It’s funny, but there’s a lot of heft beneath the silliness.