Strut have a couple of big releases – one of them freshly recorded, the other an essential retrospective. The new music comes from Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids. The septet on this occasion made up of veteran and fresh members, all navigating a course to and through “inner space” on Shaman! Ackamoor`s sax reminds me of Pharoah Sanders in timbre and tone – whether honking free outbursts or calmly calling on princes of peace – and these pieces find the band not just astral traveling but globe-trotting as well. Across the 9 tracks, all nearly 9 minutes long, there`s tight afro-funk, and polyrhythmic afrobeat shuffles, latin tempos, Nu Yorcian soul, and seductive snake-charming melodies. Guitars are strummed acoustic, clipped electric, wah-wah-ed, sometimes ringing with Tuareg riffs. The group`s gospel / blues harmonies, and call and response choruses a celebration of a pre-colonial history.
The violin is virtuoso. The flute, full of light. The raps, conscious – commenting on life’s fragility, the injustices of our times. A standout for me is Theme For Cecil – a tribute to Ackamoor`s mentor. It was as part of Cecil Taylor`s Black Music Ensemble that Ackamoor first founded The Pyramids in `70s Ohio. Shaman! comes sleeved in a masterpiece by Tokio Aoyama – which heightens the senses like a hip hop remix of Abdul Mati Klarwein`s Bitches Brew.
The new compilation on Strut covers a cherrypicked selection from Washington label, Black Fire. Collecting 10 classics from the mid-70s imprint, which mix soul and jazz, to convey a spiritual, positive message. A celestial musical balm bathed in the light of America’s Civil Rights movement, where choirs preach new gospels of tomorrow’s dreams. Aspirational songs that sing of love, peace and understanding, and a belief in better, brighter futures. Sadly, you don’t need me to tell you how relevant these still are today.
Traditional African instruments – distributed worldwide by slavery`s trade – create drum circle-like grooves. Berimbau, congas, and cowbells backing brass fanfares, conscious poetry, and metaphysical vibes. Sax bleating. Trumpet blowing `round a Cuban rumba. Piano and flute politely encouraging each other to fly. Not angry, but righteous. Forward thinking. Aiming to illuminate the way. On a mission to encourage, educate, and organise affirmative action. Once again, reclaiming ancient musics, while honking out harmony at boogie tempos. Sometimes turning to disco to get its message across. There`s a previously unreleased incredible live recording of Oneness Of Juju, from 1975, that’s the very definition of a group of people working, and getting the crowd moving, in unity.
Of the labels smaller than Strut, Black Focus also have a couple of new albums out. I’ve already covered Kamaal Williams` Wu Hen in some detail, but in addition there`s Sunny Days Blue by Philly-raised, LA-based musician, Swarvy. A close mic`d and intimate set, it teams oddly tuned ambience with bopping broken funk. Sympathetically swinging drums accompanying softly whispered words. Bass driving the album`s beatless moments, while the track Cool features some damn fine distorted guitar. The bulk of the songs are ballads – lovelorn, kinda lo-fi, “Puma Blues” blues. Sad sighing lullabies swaying to psychedelic 6-string swirls. Rocking with the reverb of the room they were recorded in. Ginger is a composition for solo piano, where the instrument`s notes fall in harp-like glissando. Running over one another in a new age stream. Spinning in reverse for the coda.
Staying in the States, Chicago`s International Anthem have a new long-player from Makaya McCraven. Universal Beings E&F Sides is an addendum to his 2018 album for the label, and also serves as a soundtrack to a documentary of the same name.
Both were trailered by the single, Mak Attack – just over two minutes of tumbling tribal drums. Looped and live. Like one of Al Dobson Jr.`s skunk funk shorts traced back to its ancestral roots. The interlocking rhythms revealing themselves as keys cut through collisions. As horns make themselves heard.
Moving East to New York, Quantic`s bespoke analogue Brooklyn-based Selva studios have slipped out – very quietly – a quartet of quality singles. These four 45s were pressed in super limited numbers, but hopefully all of the tracks will find themselves on the promised soon come label comp. First up was Favourite People. A local band whose Wading Out is a funky guitar blues that recalls the timeless Southern soul of Stax and Muscle Shoals. The axe all sustained wails and distorted snarls. Like a Tom Dowd production with a little bit more jazz in the drums.
Next was Metropolitan by Teletronix – an alias for Quantic and his OP-1 synthesizer. The two of them knocking out a samba of sorts. A bouncing Bontempi bossa nova. Then the third single was Noche de Amor by veteran Columbian bandleader, Juancho Vargas – a kind of outtake from the Ondatrópica sessions which took place in Medellin in 2012. The results of which were released back then by Soundway. The Selva tune is a piano serenade that coos around a cool cumbia rhythm. A romantic rumba back to the `50s and `60s.
Finally there`s the pairing of Quantic & Denitia for a sublime slice of syncopated street soul. The heat-stroked and stripped back, sophisticated jazz-funk of Nowhere. Where a muted, subdued, Moog b-line conveys a melancholic mood of love lost, and dancers dreaming of yesterday get to move their feet to glittering guitar chords and a gentle patter of percussion.
While Parisian label Chuwanaga take a step away from their usual reissues to release the debut E.P. by jazz-funk 5-piece, Ishkero. Brume captures four tracks of electric fusion recorded with Greita of Flegon last summer. Where Arnaud Forestier`s synths strut and Tao Ehrlich`s drums are dynamite. Victor Gasq`s Guitar sending out hammered-on angular waves. Shredding, ascending, while cymbals are crashing, opening portals to free floats out in Idris` aforementioned inner space. Adrien “Dridri” Duterte`s flute phrases charge in tandem with Gasq`s rockier riffs. The opener, Triple B, setting a furious pace. Its clipped axe jangle and Jeff Mercadie`s guest saxophone blasts bumping a ride like Prince plugged into the New Power Generation.
With our feet still firmly in France, Wewantsounds reissue the sole LP recorded by trumpeter Billy Brooks. Windows Of The Mind was produced by Ray Charles and originally released in 1974. Since then it`s become sought after, mainly for the track Fourty Days – an instantly recognizable hum-a-long “horny” rare groove, which in my mind / memory slots in right alongside say something like The Heath Brothers` Smiling Billy Suite. Within its 6 minute duration, Fourty Days, squeezes in solos not only from Billy but also from one of the 7 saxophonists assembled for the sessions (Wilbur Brown, Bill Carter, Herman Riley, Lonnie Shetter, Clifford Solomon, John Stevens, Tom Vigil), and Jef Lee Johnson on guitar.
Back in Blighty, Worm Discs` New Horizons shone a spotlight on an emerging Bristol scene, while On The Corner collected 21st, 22nd, 23rd Century pan-global sounds for their Door To The Cosmos magnum opus.
More cultural collages were created by the capable hands of Kutiman. His Wachaga is an audio / visual project built around field recordings the Israeli musician made in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Effectively collaborations with the Wachaga people of Tanzania: The Machine NKweshoo Women’s Group, The Massai Tribal Choir, and Yeiyo Boma Ctw. Weaving their bells, chants and drums into his big brass arrangements. Marches and modal swings. Adding psychedelic garage psyche organ and trippy tape effects. Kosmische chaos akin to Michael Bundt`s The Brain Of Oskar Panizza. His vintage analogue, modular, mixing desk madness processing sources into sci-fi spirituals. For me the record`s at its best when it`s at is most out there. For example, on Rainbow Kilimanjaro, as a sax wails above phased, free, soaring spirals of sound.
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids – Tango Of Love – Strut
Theatre West – Children of Tomorrow’s Dreams – Strut
Emma Jean Thackray – Um (radio edit) – Night Dreamer
Kamaal Williams – Pigalle – Black Focus
Juancho Vargas con Ondatropica – Noche de Amor (radio edit) – Selva
Ishkero – Triple B – Chuwanaga
Billy Brooks – Fourty Days – Wewantsounds
Quantic & Denitia – Nowhere – Selva
Lon Moshe & Southern Freedom Arkestra – Doin The Carvin For Thabo – Strut
Makaya McCraven – Mak Attack – International Anthem
Snazzback – Flump (Ishmael Ensemble Rework) – Worm Discs
Swarvy – Ginger – Black Focus
Waldos Gift – Jabba – Worm Discs
Jose Marquez – La Negra Lorenza – On The Corner
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids – Theme For Cecil – Strut
Oneness Of Ju Ju – African Rhythms (Live In Washington, 1975) – Strut
Emma Jean Thackray – Yang (radio edit) – Night Dreamer
Kamaal Williams – Save Me – Black Focus
Clive From Accounts – The Rain – On The Corner
Batida featuring Karlon – Aquecedor – On The Corner
Kutiman – Awake In The Rain – Siyal Music