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 30 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.
Key To Nowhere, Brother Ah’s third LP, 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.