Francisco Mora Catlett – “AfroHORN: Rare Metal”


Francisco Mora Catlett - "AfroHORN: Rare Metal"Another album that I’ve been drawn to repeatedly over the course of the last handful of months is the new release by Francisco Mora Catlett, titled AfroHORN Rare Metal.

This is an instance of an artist becoming so inspired by a fictional work that he made it a part of his own creation, thus rendering the original fiction more real while also expanding the strength of the fiction’s mythology.  Afro Horn is an element to the Henry Dumas short story “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”  There are only three such horns, forged from the rare metals found only in Africa and South America.  One such horn is in the possession of a jazz musician.  Through the context of that jazz musician, the topics of music tradition and the evolution and migration of those traditions are explored.

Catlett’s music is an illustration of those themes.  Rare Metal is a blend of African spiritual jazz, Afro-Caribbean music, and the particular vintage of avant-garde music that is both wildly unfettered and rooted in the music of the past.  The contributing musicians themselves come from a variety of backgrounds and geographical locations, mirroring the development of jazz itself.  And though this is only the second recording of Catlett’s AfroHORN ensemble (the first being 2012’s AfroHORN MX), this ensemble has been alive conceptually for far longer than that, dating back to Catlett’s days with the Sun Ra Arkestra.

It’s an album that sounds very much of Today, yet presents music that parlays the comforting sensation of belonging to an established lineage and all of the voices from the past who still resonate in the present sound.

Your album personnel:  Francisco Mora Catlett (drums, percussion), Sam Newsome (soprano sax), Salim Washington (tenor sax, flute, oboe), Alex Harding (baritone sax, bass clarinet), Aruan Ortiz (piano), Rashaan Carter (acoustic & electric basses), Roman Diaz (percussion, vocal), Andrew Daniels (percussion), and guests:  Danys “La Mora” Perez, Meredith Wright, Liethis Hechavarria, and Sandra D. Harper (vocals).

Chant and poetry are scattered throughout the album.  It opens with such.  Brief spoken word accompanied by the tinny charm of thumb piano and the rattle and shake of percussion.  This leads to the nifty Afro-Jazz groove of “Afra Jum,” which receives its liftoff from the triple percussion propulsion of Catlett, Daniels, and Diaz.

There is a fluid motion to this music, throughout, something that the ensemble chips away at, throughout.  On “Afra Jum,” saxophone accompaniment moves out front, and gradually begins to flail about dramatically.  It’s a pattern mirrored by pianist Ortiz, who displays here as he has on his own album Orbiting, that frenetic phrasing is no obstacle to lyricism.

No matter how much the soloists twist around one another, presenting different shapes to the same song, the rhythm section keeps finding a straight and narrow path through the tune.  It captures the soloists.  It makes it so they can’t venture too far away from the song, because the rhythm section will always be there to draw them in.  Bassist Carter, who has worked with pianist Ortiz on other projects, is particularly relevant here… much in that way that glue is hidden behind connected pieces, if it weren’t for its unseen presence, things would fall apart.

“Baruasuayo Mamakenya” starts nice and easy, a swaying groove, a soulful presence.  Harding’s bass clarinet provides some searing heat to go with Ortiz’s warm embers on piano.  Newsome’s soprano sax dances on the tips of rhythmic beats, displaying the same spry athleticism as on his 2012 release Art of the Soprano.

“5 X Max” has a spritely, celebratory sound.  One of the rare times all woodwinds are moving in conjunction.  A straight-ahead solo becomes a fiery solo, hotter emotions conveyed, while percussion remains chipper and upbeat.

“Salina Ago” opens with a soulful chant, continues with a spiritual jazz piece that has that right mix of hard bop groove, kinetic intensity, and eclectic clash of dissonance.  “Yeye Olude” is classic Afro-Jazz… a nice steady groove, textured rhythms, saxes saddled up on the groove, and piano skittering around like a dust storm at the rhythm’s feet.  It’s a song that one can tap their foot while watching soloists dart about.

The album is peppered with interludes.  The general decision to be made is whether to make the interludes stand-alone pieces that cleanse the sonic palate between proper tracks or utilize the interludes to serve as introductions and reprises of proper album tracks, presenting an element of the melody or rhythm in an alternate form, and a point of comparison that reveals additional facets of the source material.

Mora Catlett runs with the latter approach on Rare Metal, and to useful effect.  Album opener “Moyuba Afro Horn” opens the curtain nicely with a peaceful expression before the burgeoning intensity of “Afra Jum” sets in.  “Olodo” is a captivating mix of chant, soprano sax, and percussion, leading into “Blue People,” a tune that takes a winding path from its initial statement of melody and its last, often running off the trail and not always in the same direction, which is followed by “Blue People Epilogue,” a contrail of dissonance between piano and sax.  And the album ends with one final short piece, the lullaby “Salina Ago Reprise,” a return visit to fifth track “Salina Ago,” in which Washington’s flute provides a soothing accompaniment to comforting vocals, growing quieter until the final note.

A very enjoyable recording, one that grabbed my ear on first listen and which hasn’t ever really let go.  It’s a CD that has never strayed too far from my stereo.

Released on AACE Records.

Album cover art by David Mora Catlett.

Available at: Amazon MP3