It’s been said – but maybe not enough – that the real history lies between the cracks of recorded sound. The tape recorders weren’t always rolling when some of the most interesting music, and that which obscures canonical regularity, was recorded. Or, if the event was taken down on tape for posterity – cue the reams of European radio broadcasts now cataloged in state archives – it wasn’t deemed worthy or possible to release by record companies. Sometimes an artist or an ensemble might luckily make it to the history books despite a lack of recorded evidence to back up what one hopes the results sound like. The famed jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden is one example of that; in more recent years, the work of percussionist and contrabassist Juma Sultan’s Aboriginal Music Society was “heard of” but not heard, owing to documentation in Valerie Wilmer’s As Serious As Your Life (Serpent’s Tail, 1977/2000). Father of Origin, a boxed set of two LPs, one CD, and a book on the Eremite label, is about to change all that.
Founded in 1968 in Woodstock, New York by Sultan (a Californian who worked with reedman Sonny Simmons) and percussionist Ali Abuwi (a Detroiter who performed alongside Yusef Lateef), the Aboriginal Music Society was based around the 212 Artists Colony and expats from New York and Chicago, including members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band – drummer Philip Wilson, saxophonist Gene Dinwiddie, and guitarist Ralph Walsh – along with free jazzers like trumpeters Earl Cross and James DuBoise, bassist Peter Warren and others. The recordings included here were all taken between 1970 and 1972, with music from the set’s first LP ostensibly slated for inclusion on the never-issued Aboriginal Family Album. Though the Paul Butterfield credentials here are ripe – and Sultan was a close associate of Jimi Hendrix – the proceedings are decidedly avant-garde, starting ruggedly in medias res and building to a dense, trance-like fervor as Dinwiddie’s heel-digging tenor struts on “Fan Dance Part One.”
A 1971 studio session cut slightly before the AMS took its operations to DuBoise’s Lower East Side loft Studio W, becoming central in the burgeoning loft-jazz scene, is represented by the second LP. It is decidedly stripped-down music; with tenorman Frank Lowe out front and center the proceedings are full-force and dense. Lowe’s ululations peel the paint on what are his earliest recordings, supported and accented by a shifting percussive web that knows no particular tribe or aesthetic. The CD presents an ensemble vibe somewhat comparable to that on the first LP, augmented by recent St. Louis transplants Charles “Bobo” Shaw (percussion), Julius Hemphill (alto saxophone), and Abdul Wadud (cello). The whole set is beautifully presented and includes a book full of period photos and artifacts as well as an informative liner essay by musicologist Michael Heller. With hands and feet in the upstate artists’ environment as well as the Black Arts lofts that formed part of the architecture of 1970s New York jazz, the Aboriginal Music Society’s branches could be traced to almost any other ensemble or musician during this time period. Thankfully recorded documentation has been preserved and the fragments presented here are choice. Visit Juma’s Archive for more information, as it looks like Father of Origin is just the tip of the iceberg.