While The Black Ark is not altogether different than his other records from this period, it presents Howard in a new setting with a number of interesting avant-garde players. On hand for this session are reedman Arthur Doyle, trumpeter Earl Cross, Leslie Waldron on piano, Sirone on bass, Muhammad Ali on drums, and Juma Sultan on conga. There is some mild variation in style among each of these songs' respective heads (from post-Coltrane to hard bop noir), but in all cases they are abandoned rather quickly anyway, so to dwell on such things, it seems, would be a rather moot point. Instead, the widely varying styles of the players themselves are of particular interest. Both Cross and Waldron, not exactly household names, reveal themselves to be quite competent players and tend to be the anchors of the group, in that their solos are often the most grounded of the non-percussion instruments. Doyle, on the other hand, is expectedly outrageous. His solos on this (or any) record never fail to increase a song's intensity level. Otherwise, Sirone and the percussionists are afforded some solo and duet time on the second side, which really accentuates the delay used on Sultan's conga. As a result, when he and Ali are left to themselves, the listener is presented with a very Sun Ra-esque Afro-space sound reminiscent perhaps of the echoed percussion heard on Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy. Easily recommended for fans of the 1969 BYG/ESP free jazz scene.
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AllMusic Review by Brandon Burke