Ahmed Abdullah assembled an impressive band for his Washington debut at d.c. space Saturday night, but the New York trumpeter could not live up to the standards of his sidemen. Abdullah, who has played with Sun Ra, Ed Blackwell and Arthur Blythe, essayed predominantly banal and derivative ideas in his solos, and he had trouble executing them as he suffered from persistent problems with pitch, tone and articulation. When his fellow soloists, fiddler Billy Bang and saxophonist Carlos Ward, played dissonantly, their digressions seemed purposeful; when Abdullah turned dissonant, it seemed arbitrary or accidental.
Bang and acoustic bassist Fred Hopkins were in a playful mood as they toyed with Abdullah's simple themes (transparently derived from South African township jive, new-age and R&B sources); the two string players often broke out laughing as they twisted the melodies into outlandish shapes. The sextet's electric guitarist, newcomer Masujaa, didn't get many solos, but he brought a promising minimalist refinement to James Ulmer's harmolodic funk.
Charles Moffett, once the anchor of the Ornette Coleman Trio, lived up to his legend with rolling, melodic drum combinations. Most impressive of all, though, was Ward, a veteran of Abdullah Ibrahim's band; the saxophonist fought off sound monitor problems to rescue Abdullah's spacey tune "Liquid Magic" with a cogent, dramatic sax solo that set Moffett on a roll of his own.