Perfect Sound Forever


(photo courtesy of Internet Cafe)

by Steve Koenig (February 2001)

The label is black, with a Moorish-Arabic design around the edges; I love to watch that label spin on my turntable. Survival, drummer Rashied Ali's label, is now being returned to us on CD, with the logo top center. After a year abroad following the death of John Coltrane, Ali began his own New York club, Ali's Alley, and documenting this scene on tape. Ali remembers, "I asked each musician performing at Ali's Alley if they'd like to be recorded, and most said yes."

Thirty years later, the drummer had "been talking to Michael [Dorf, Knitting Factory honcho] for years about the tapes that I have from Ali's Alley," Rashied explains. "I think it was just a matter of time, because when they started to do these things, dealing with a lot of independent young record companies, well Jim (Eigo), he was back in the day, he used to come to this club I had, Ali's Alley. He was hip to what we were doing musically, and the tapes that I was doing from the club. He asked what I had, and I had them all ready to be transferred. We had a deal that I could put out these records, and also put out more, and new stuff. It's leased to the company for ten years, Survival and Knitting Works working together."

 Reissue producer Jim Eigo, now with Jazz Magnet, recalls "My history with this music goes back to the early 1970's; I was privileged to be present for the "Loft Jazz" scene in NYC - Ali's Alley, Studio Rivbea, Environ, Artists House, The Brook to name a few, where much of this music was created." When the opportunity to return the Survival catalog presented itself, Eigo "jumped at the chance to do it. Rashied was so gracious and accommodating, opening up his archive of music to me. Fortunately the tapes were well preserved and organized. Rashied had everything catalogued. I was amazed at how well the music held up, the immediacy and power had not diminished one bit. It was fresh and new again and I was happy to able to make this great music available in the digital age."

What's next? "I was luckily enough to get one record out by each band so each one is documented. I have just about everything we did because I recorded everything. I'm a well-documented musician, even though the people haven't heard it yet. I'm a tape recorder freak; from the very beginning of my career as a musician I had a tape recorder. Even back when I was a kid I had a Wollensak, but in those days it sounded like hi-fi. Remarkably, all the tapes are in pretty good shape. I'm talking about forty years, and I have all that stuff still. I want to release the session I did with Eddie Jefferson and Leon Thomas." I asked him, laughing, "What is it with you and singers?"

"I'm gonna tell you what it is with me and singers. I'm a singer myself. My mom was a gospel and jazz singer. I used to sing when I was a kid, all the way through high school, and I always liked singing, so there's that bonds between drums and voice that's always been my thing, so I love singing and I love singers. I did this thing with Jay Clayton, Irene Datcher, and Jeanne Lee; I had those three singers and the band consists of Hammiett Bluiett, Charles Eubanks on piano, Jamie Vass on alto, Bennie Wilson and myself and that's called Rashied Ali with voices; that's three great girl singers. All done live at Ali's Alley." Sitting in Survival Studios, I was treated to a sneak preview of what we have in store: "Rashied Ali with Voices" has the three sopranos creating intricate lines in "'Round About Midnight" and other songs which in jazz terms equal the intricacies of the three sopranos closing Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier." Exquisite. Meanwhile, bask in the knowledge of Survival and know that we are richer because of it. Although the sound is plainly analog, the music is prestidigitation. Here's a play-by-play of the current catalog.

NOTE: The Survival catalog can be found at Knit Classics

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