It's been 20 years since the release of this CD and Mora Catlett's first project (Mora on AACE.) In the interim, the drummer/percussionist has worked with Max Roach's M'Boom, Sun Ra, and his own band, Amigo, around the Detroit area. For this recording he employs such fellow Detroiters as bassist Rodney Whitaker and pianist Craig Taborn as a core trio. The bulk of the material is piano-bass-drums in a jazz context, though the first four selections are based on traditional Yoruban themes. The others are Mora Catlett originals with varying combinations of musicians, and two larger ensemble pieces. Mora himself is a steady drummer, showing occasional oubursts of power, and has a solid background in the Afro-Cuban rhythmic history, which he liberally sprinkles in. On the four Yoruban numbers, Taborn shines. His avant, Cecil Taylor-like tendencies are restrained, letting the pure beauty of his concept flower. "Iron Master" is a 6/8 melody with a latter period repeated figure; "Hunter's Child" turns dramatic with a cha-cha-cha flavor; while "Baba" is a lilting line. The shimmering "Vital Force" is quite reminiscent of Yusef Lateef's "Morning," with an Alice Coltrane-esque spirituality wrapped in a patient 4/4 swing, punctuated by a long drum solo. The larger combo recapitulates the piece from "Mora" "Cultural Warrior," an anthem for pianist Kenn Cox, who appears on the track along with tenor saxophonist Vincent Bowens, echoes it in a dramatic, deliberate fashion. An even bigger group for "El Morro" provides a loping motif for Cox, Bowens, trumpet soloist Marcus Belgrave, bass clarinetist Alex Harding, and flutist/trombonist Sherman Mitchell to collectively fete the leader while he directs this caravan sound sculpture. The remaining pieces are snippets of piano, percussion, or non-piano trio workouts, interludes, or preludes. A completely free bash "Crossroads" abstractly wails, with Mora and percussionist Andrew Daniels, Harding on baritone sax, Nik Pena on trumpet, and Cass Richmond on alto sax, Pena on sea shells and forest whistles, and Mora, concocting jungle sounds for the convincing "The Other Side of the Mask." This music has a certain improvised content with Afro-Cuban inflections. Rather than Latin jazz it is a true new music, borrowing from modern and ancient traditions, and is best heard as a complete work, more orchestral in nature than several suites or series of unrelated songs. "El Morro" really stands out, perhaps as a tribute to its fearless leader. Recommended.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos