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Francisco Mora Catlett - Mora! I&II (Album Review)

16 April 2021

Album Rating: 4.5/5

Solo Performances: 5/5

Diversity in songs: 4/5

Favourite songs: Afra Jum, Samba De Amor, Cultural Warrior, Amazona

Mora! I&II is a seriously superb album.

Many, myself included, would not have heard of Francisco Mora Catlett, the Mexican-American percussionist, despite him being a former member of the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra. To showcase this exceptional talent, Far Out Recordings have released a double LP: Mora & Mora II.

Mora was recorded in 1987 and was released as a private press that year, but the sequel, which was recorded a few years after, was withheld for a future release. 16th April 2021 marks the release of the two of them together in a bundle of musical joy.

It’s a percussive album first and foremost. Pan-American, Afro-Cuban, sambas and Latin jazz are just a few buzzwords to describe it, and Francisco Mora Catlett's music has rhythmic and melodic influences from Haitian, Mexican, African and Native American music.

The music is not as far out as Sun Ra’s but its grooves and unrelenting energy lift you, maybe not to outer space, but to somewhere that I’ll be happy to stay for a good long while.

The album is indebted to Francisco Mora Catlett’s parents: Francisco Mora Sr and Elizabeth Catlett, both of whom were prominent Mexican artists and raised their child in a "creative, progressive, and healthy arts environment", according to Francisco Mora Catlett.

The album welcomes us with birdsong and a percussive groove before ‘Afra Jum’: an eleven-minute epic musical venture with a scorching saxophone, bass and keys over Mora’s drumming. Fantastic solos come in between the high-energy, Afro-Cuban grooves.

The musicianship of the album is as high a level as you would expect. The personnel includes keyboardist Kenny Cox of Strata Records, Rodney Whitaker of the Roy Hargrove Quintet, as well as Jerome Le Duff, Albert Nacif and Emile Borde with their percussive skills.

‘Rumba Morena’ is a Samba-inflected piece of jazz, followed by ‘Five AM’: a late-night-early-morning jazz odyssey.

‘Samba De Amor’ takes us out from the more traditional jazz sounds of ‘Five AM’ to the Samba rhythms again with riffing vocals and steel pans, atop the thunderous bongos.

‘Cultural Warrior’ slows down the pace of the album with a Coltrane-esque piece of transcendental jazz featuring sax, twinkling keys and the warping drums of Francisco Mora Catlett.

Part one of the Mora albums ends with ‘Epilogue-Conga: Hasta La Vista’ with a similar percussion and birdsong to the opening track.

Then we are given the taste of Mora II, opening with ‘Afra Jum Pt.2’. It has a very different feel to the track of the first album with carnivalesque drumming and powerful chords before descending into a short free-jazz frenzy and ascending out of it deliciously.

The second half of the album sets a new atmosphere to the first and is centred more on the rich South American jazz sounds. The sequel has an expanded line up, this time including trumpeter Marcus Belgrave who worked with Ray Charles and Charles Mingus.

‘Amazona’ is a fantastic tune soaked in Samba rhythms with Mora’s wife, Teresa Mora, on vocals. It also features a fine flute solo in between the chanting vocals.

Mora II gives the listener more free jazz glimpses, reminiscent of the Sun Ra Arkestra, alongside Latin jazz rhythms, with flutes and steel pans, in the likes of ‘Amazona’ and ‘Samba: Conga de Amor’.

‘El Moro’ is a slow track suitable for moonlight with a muted trumpet and piano taking full stage, while ‘Old Man Joe’ is an upbeat, sun-soaked track where steel pans soundtrack the carnival grooves.

The album ends on the third and shortest part of ‘Afra Jum’ with pulsating energy.

The second part of the album was unreleased until 2005 when Francisco Mora Catlett put out a CD under the name River Drum, thanks to Far Out Recordings it is now available digitally and on vinyl.

In the decades following these recordings, Mora expanded into electronic territories with a passion for Pan-American and Afro-Futurist soundscapes. He became interested in Detroit’s techno scene, working with Carl Craig and the Innerzone Orchestra, and he would go on to reignite his collaborations with the Arkestra’s Marshall Allen.

Mora! I & II stands as a flag post for his exceptional musicianship, where grooves from the Caribbean, South America, Africa and North America weave together in musical harmony.


Buy and stream Mora! I&II here:

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