The renowned French horn player known as Brother Ah (aka Robert Northern) is one of the most prolific and respected musicians in the history of jazz music, with a recorded output spanning more than 40 years.
Born in 1934 and raised in the south Bronx, Brother Ah was playing jazz trumpet as early as fifteen years of age. Following a classical French horn education at Austria’s Vienna State Academy, he emerged in the late ‘50s and established himself as a skilled and consistent session musician, playing with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, and numerous Broadway theater orchestras.
Brother Ah recorded well into the ‘60s with some of the most illustrious names in the genre, including Donald Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Gil Evans and, perhaps most influentially, Sun Ra. In 1969, Ah formed his own group, The Musical Sound Awareness Ensemble, and released several works under his own name from 1974 onward. In the late ‘60s, his interest in non-western music developed, and his ‘70s recordings, incorporated elements of Eastern and “Third World” music, fusing them with jazz structures.
His first solo recording, Sound Awareness was released on the Strata East label in 1972. By this time, Ah had recorded extensively with the Sun Ra Arkestra and his solo work continued the boundary-pushing approaches he explored with that ensemble. Consisting of two side-length tracks, “Beyond Yourself (The Midnight Confession)”, and “Love Piece”, the album features notable appearances by percussionist Max Roach and the M'Boom Re:percussion Ensemble, as well as a 90-piece vocal choir. The 22-minute “Beyond Yourself” is billed as “a sound journey” in seven parts, outlining a man’s struggle to either give up drugs or become a monk.
In 1975, Ah released his second LP, Move Ever Onward on his own label, Divine Records. A more straightforward affair, the record infused Indian, Japanese and African folk music elements into more traditional jazz structures than Ah’s debut LP. Of its eight tracks, four include vocals by the artists Dara, Aiisha, Kwesi Gilbert Northernand Ayida Tengemana. The instrumental tracks provide more colorful moments, such as the cacophonous percussion on “Boundless Rhythm” and the hypnotic kora and koto notes on “Enthusiasm” and “Celestial Strings”.
Key To Nowhere, Brother Ah’s third LP, also released on Divine in 1983, features him on flute, horn, harmonica, nayamka, and shell horn, leading an octet of musicians, including lush and driving harp, as played by Jeff Majors, and vocals on “Motherless Child”, “Key To Nowhere” and “Nature’s Blues” from Natasha Hasan Yousef. Ah’s harmonica flourishes on “The Void” are a standout moment not only on the album, but in his catalog. Despite these fascinating infusions, Key To Nowhere is perhaps Ah’s most cohesive ‘70s recording.
Original vinyl pressings of these three albums, out of print since their initial runs, sell for well over $100 each among collectors. Manufactured Recordings is proud to offer reissued vinyl editions of all three, for a far more reasonable price.
Pre-order information is coming soon. Follow Manufactured Recordings on Facebook and Twitter for further updates about these releases, as well as future plans for three previously unreleased Brother Ah recordings!