Judith and Dave O’Higgins ‘His ‘n’ Hers’ LP/CD (Ubuntu Music) 5/5

This is a perfect example of what contemporary British jazz is all about. Dave O’Higgins will be well known to many followers of British jazz. The tenor and soprano saxophonist has maintained his quest for original artistic expression for many years whilst acknowledging a great respect of the jazz tradition. Born in Birmingham in 1964. He cut his musical teeth with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. An early visit to the recording studio in 1989 resulted in the album ‘Roadside Picnic’ by the jazz-rock fusion group of the same name. This was quickly followed with a second album and both are well worth seeking out. His first album under his own name came in 1992 with ‘All Good Things’, an exciting quartet album. Over the next twenty-eight years, he has produced a varied catalogue of albums and has established himself as a composer, educator and producer of some renown. He has even found time to establish his own recording studio – JVG.

Last year he released an album with guitarist Rob Luft featuring Monk and Coltrane tunes on Ubuntu Music. He’s back now with another release, also on Ubuntu Music and it’s a fine effort. This time it’s a family affair with Dave’s wife Judith co-leading this quintet outing on tenor and soprano saxophones. Now, Judith may not be as familiar to jazz lovers as her husband, but she is certainly his equal here. Indeed, listening to the album it is often difficult to tell who is soloing. Interestingly, they both cite fellow saxophonist Dexter Gordon as a major influence and its clear to hear that throughout the album. I must mention here that Judith has a career outside music and as noted on her website, she is “undoubtedly the best forensic pathologist jazz saxophonist living in London”. This does not impede her ability as a saxophonist in any way.

The album consists of seven tracks which remind me, and I’m sure many others, of the classic ‘Tough Tenors’ outings of Johnny Griffin and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis. Graham Harvey is on piano, Jeremy Brown on bass and Josh Morrison at the drums. The album simply had to include at least one Dexter Gordon piece and we get one of his best “Hanky Panky” and another classic “Save Your Love for Me” from Buddy Johnson. Amongst the more muscular offerings, we are treated to one of the best ballads and one that we don’t hear often enough “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”. The album closes with another theme from Dexter Gordon “Soy Califa” from Gordon’s album “A Swingin’ Affair”.

It almost goes without saying that the recorded sound is exemplary and is a credit to Mr and Mrs O’Higgins hard work establishing and improving their studio facilities over the last ten years.

All-in-all, to steal from Dexter Gordon again, this is a truly swinging affair guaranteed to put a smile on our faces in these uncertain times. One for the end of year ‘Best Of’ lists.

Alan Musson

Kahil El’Zabar ‘America the Beautiful’ LP/CD (Spiritmuse) 5/5

‘America the Beautiful’ marks the new release by revered percussionist, Kahil El’Zabar, on the newly founded Spiritmuse Records. Although Spiritmuse is in fact ‘newly founded’ as we say, their commitment to the presentation of “deep, spiritual & avant-garde jazz” couldn’t be off to a greater start. This year alone has seen vocalist Dwight Trible partner up with the supergroup formation of Cosmic Vibrations for their album ‘Pathways & Passages’, as well as the release of El’Zabar’s first album this year – the pairing with his long-time friend and collaborator, saxophonist David Murray, for their album ‘Spirit Groove’ back in June. Already with a long collaborative history, ‘Spirit Groove’ has received widespread acclaim as potentially being the definitive pairing between the two titans of the genre which is incredibly high praise when considering the exceptional work that came before it.

Kahil El’Zabar’s rich musical catalogue which is rooted in this ethos of collaboration potentially requires little introduction. One of the definitive names in spiritual jazz as far back as the 1970s which has seen the Chicago native front an array of collectives including the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (excitingly a collective also affiliated with Spiritmuse so check out their ‘Be Known’ album release from last year), Ritual Trio, Tri-Factor, Kahil El’Zabar Quartet or the ‘It’s Time’ release by Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnics.

Unfortunately, events over the last few years – particularly within the United States – mean that the title ‘America the Beautiful’ really offers little ambiguity. With the world struggling back to its feet while in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, questionable leadership during these extraordinary circumstances, the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, the rise of Far-Right voices… it really does conjure up completely new perspectives on what ‘America the Beautiful’ stands for those living within the US. But even in spite of this war for America’s soul, the title of this album isn’t actually expressed with the disdain that it might appear. This is, of course, a Kahil El’Zabar album so the notion of positivity and unity will forever be associated as synonymous messages within his music – which are voices much needed now.

The album features a mix of covers and original compositions. A track that makes a fascinating inclusion as one of the covers for the project is Charles Wright’s 1971 classic, ‘Express Yourself’; but in light of the themes projected throughout the album, it’s also interesting to consider NWA’s famous 1989 sampling of the song for their track of the same name which took a public stance on the notion of free expression and the increasing constrictions placed upon rappers during the rise in hip-hop’s popularity.

The rousing ‘Freedom March’ marks another highlight as does the exquisite – and at the same time incredibly haunting – ‘Prayers for the Unwarranted Sufferings’. The 8+ minute ‘Sketches of an Afro Blue’ is very potentially the gem of the whole project though with all elements beautifully coming together marking an incredible centrepiece for the album.

The album begins and ends with versions of ‘America the Beautiful’ with each version poignantly connecting differently in the context of everything you’re about to hear on the album and everything you would have just heard. The closing rendition of the track in particular hits hard: some listens may inspire thoughts of the earlier mentioned disdain towards faux ideals while others may take the parting moments as hope that America can actually live up to the values it has attempted to build its new world upon.

Imran Mirza

Fra Det Onde ‘Feat. the Legendary Emil Nikolaisen’ LP (El Paraiso) 5/5

Fra Det Onde or From Evil is a first-time collaboration of three musicians from Norway; drummer Olaf Olsen, Rune Nergaard on electric bass and trumpeter Erik Kimestad Pederson. All are well established with participation in groups and projects too numerous to mention here. As the title suggests, there’s also producer and legend, Emil Nikolaisen behind the desk, contributing sonic wizardry and odd tinkle on the old Farfisa.

The high-pitched pulsing Morse Code transmission-like tone signals the start of “Fri”, then slowly joined by fierce drumming and hard-driven bass guitar rumblings. Fiery shards of trumpet are harmonised with kaleidoscopic electronica giving a fascinating opaque quality to the overall sound. “Os” has more space and the wraithlike horn is backed by the free rhythm section. The sonic collage towards the end has a brooding presence which is abruptly disturbed by the crashing cymbal which introduces “Captain Gold Silver”. Pederson’s claustrophobic distorted trumpet and Olsen’s free playing is held down by Nergaard’s growly chordal bass motif.

Fluid, sinuous trumpet and deranged Farfisa skirmish on “From”, driven by the frantic proggy mutant-12-bar bass line. Olsen’s exciting, hostile drums feature on “Our” which is an off-kilter-blues electric funeral march and segues into “Sins” with a phasing electronic pulse. “Sins” becomes something like a meeting of “Bitches Brew” and NEU! The short but melodic trumpet phrases flow on a Motorik rhythm section with electronic drones and space rock glides.

This is a bracing and exhilarating record. A fusion project led by a trumpet immediately evokes Miles but there are other interesting elements at work here. The playing is very aggressive, much harder than most fusion, more heavy rock in attitude. This appeals anyway but what really excites is how this is balanced with studio manipulations and electronics which really takes this to another level providing a bold, dense but abstract, shimmering, other-worldly whole.

Kevin Ward

Florian Arbenz / Greg Osby ‘Reflections Of The Eternal Line’ LP/CD (Self-released) 5/5

Here’s an interesting take on the concept of jazz trio, this one is Florian Arbenz, (drums, percussion), Greg Osby (saxophones) and Stephan Spicher (visuals). It’s a mixed media affair, the meeting of music and painting. There are two ways to enjoy this album, either as a stand alone audio recording of Arbenz and Osby or as an audio visual treat watching Spicher transform the duo into a mixed media trio. He responds to Arbenz and Osby as they perform live in his art studio. Instead of following fellow Swiss born artist Paul Klee’s suggestion of ‘taking a line for a walk’ he takes his lines for a dance. His artwork consists of two continuous lines, red then green moving freely across white paper with a tension echoing that created as the musicians improvise. Like the music, his painting builds in complexity until the red and green lines blend into a structure of black forms and knots of varying intensity. As the music itself finds structure and is resolved so the threads of Spicher’s painting conclude their journey.

It’s occurred to me that there could be a third way to approach this album. The absence of Spicher in my domestic setting as I listen strongly suggests the possibility of audience participation. I have my own sheet of paper and choice of colour, so it’s just a case of choosing a track to respond to before I step momentarily into Spicher’s shoes.

Arbenz says of the music, he and Osby were inspired by a series of paintings by Spicher. Presumably it is these paintings that line the walls of the studio which he and Osby perform in during their YouTube videos. He says ‘It’s not just about the exchange of ideas but trying to find a different ‘sound’ for each tune’. He goes on to explain that the three of them ‘worked to create a new collection both visual and sonic’ and ‘the listener should feel like walking through an exhibition and looking at different paintings’.

Arbenz and Osby have worked together over a period of 22 years, Osby joining Arbenz with his band Vein. This is the first time they’ve recorded as a ‘duo’, maybe that’s not the right term as it excludes the crucial influence of Spicher on the record. As you can’t hear Spicher I guess it will do. Arbenz beefs up his kit with the addition of Balinese gong and tuned kalimbas as well as some custom designed percussion. Osby brings soprano and alto sax and the legend that is himself. The musicians say the symbolism of Spicher’s choice of motif, two contrasting lines, red and green is not lost on them.

The albums seven tracks or eight on the download vary in approach from the taut riff of ‘Wooden Lines’ to the contemplative eastern flavour of ‘Chant’ to the funk of ‘Groove Conductor’. The interplay of the two musicians is compelling and intense but never feels spartan. There’s plenty of dynamic range from the pair, some of it coming from the custom made percussion that creates an unexpectedly rich bass. It’s a great luxury listening to just two players improvise on this mind expanding record.

James Read

Linda Sikhakhane: The Interview

Saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane first came to my attention through his work on Nduduzo Makhathini’s 2014 album “Mother Tongue”. Something about his sound immediately struck a chord with me. That initial impression was nurtured by successive collaborations, with his mentor Makhathini and others.

Linda’s debut album, “Two Sides, One Mirror”, embraced local and diasporic traditions, pointing the way to what might be achievable in terms of contemporary discourse between the two.

With the release of his second album, “Open Dialogue”, imminent, it felt like the right time to find out more about Mr Sikhakhane.

Read the interview here

Various ‘BLACK FIRE Soul Love Now: The Black Fire Records Story 1975-1993’ 2LP/CD (Strut) 5/5

The title of this compilation from Strut gives the listener a pretty good idea of what to expect from the record. The story of Black Fire Records is told with a finely curated selection of 10 tracks spanning 1975-1993. That may be almost 20 years but the offering has a striking continuity and the album flows beautifully from start to finish without incongruous juxtapositions or jarring inclusions.

The album comes with a comprehensive 25-page booklet detailing the history of the label. One crucial fact is that founders DJ and producer Jimmy Gray and saxophonist James ‘Plunky’ Branch ran into money troubles early on at the label and unfortunately many recordings had to be canned before release. Although some were eventually issued on CD in the 90s this is their vinyl debut.

‘Soul Love Now’ the title track is from Oneness Of Juju, sax player James ‘Plunky’ Branch’s band, blending soul jazz with the rhythms of Africa. ‘Africa is our Mother’ vocalist Eka-Ete Jackie Lewis harmonises with impressive power as Afro-beats and the vibes of Lon Moshe drive the song forward. As a cornerstone of Black Fire’s output, various incarnations of the band get three tunes on the album.

An earlier example when they were simply known as Juju is ‘Nia (Poem: Complete the Circle)’ a song documenting personal and spiritual growth, ‘to find peace you must be it’ gives a flavour of the vocal. The circle is literally completed by Branch’s impressive circular breath as he blows his instrument for the concluding duration.

For completists also included is a 1975 live version of ‘African Rhythms’ which is not released elsewhere. Branch says of the song ‘we created this piece to be spiritual, informative, something you could get off to.’ This could also be a mission statement for Black Fire as a whole, music to move the listener both spiritually and politically but also crucially something you can dance to.

Wayne Davis’ soul groove ‘Look At The People’ retains its political relevance and bite as a commentary on life in contemporary America, ‘Sippin’ Coca-Cola, eating apple pie just like everything’s alright’ is delivered in his gutsy vocal.

The 1993 recording ‘Third House’ by Southern Energy Ensemble has all the ingredients that give the previously uninitiated listener (like myself) a sense that this is the distinctive Black Fire sound: Afro percussion, in this case, congas, tight horns, jazz elements fused with a soulful sensibility and transcendent qualities which aspire to take the listener to a higher plane.

Ghanaian percussionist Okyenema Asante’s ‘Follow Me’ sees the band’s vocalist incrementally raise the pitch of her voice until she’s competing with the sax to shatter any glassware in the vicinity. This is combined with squelching keyboards and treated sax alongside Asante’s beats to give the piece a mesmerising hypnotic quality.

The final selection, ‘People’ by Experience Unlimited is taken from their 1977 debut album Free Yourself. It’s a soulful duet brimming with vocal harmonies. The band went on to release many more albums and saw a revival of their fortunes in the 90s thanks in part to some high profile sampling of their work from this era.

The Black Fire Records Story’s continuity is achieved by focusing on musical flow rather than chronological sequence which gives the listener an immediate feel for the elements that make Black Fire as relevant in 2020 as it was back in 1975.

James Read

Damani Rhodes ‘R.E.A.C.H’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

‘R.E.A.C.H’ marks the debut solo recording from pianist and composer, Damani Rhodes, from Sacramento, California. The release of this project could well be argued to be long overdue. Drawn to music from a young age, Rhodes’ passion saw him gravitate to different instruments in his youth from drums to guitar, before really finding himself at home with the piano.

Recent years have really seen Rhodes’ musical efforts gain increased notoriety as his work amongst varying projects have garnered steady acclaim and resulted in some fantastic projects: there’s the eclectic and fusion-inspired musical collective known as Mino Yanci (“musical freedom”), founded by Damani, who at the time of this writing currently have their excellent self-titled debut EP (2017) available and that project’s subsequent follow-up single, ‘Sho-vel’ featuring bassist Aneesa Strings and vocalist Vadia released in 2019. There is also Damani’s contributions to the socially conscious hip-hop collective known as SOL Development who have a number of powerful and politically charged releases to their name, most recently their ‘Sol Affirmations’ project released earlier this year in collaboration with Rhodes.

These varied and dynamic projects have gone a long way to laying some exciting groundwork for Damani’s R.E.A.C.H with elements from his work as a part of these different groups really seeming to shine through at various parts of the album.

Recorded exclusively within the hallowed grounds of Washington, DC’s, revered Kennedy Center following a week-long residency at the REACH, the five songs that comprise this release were born solely of those live sessions. Backed by bassist Chris McEwen and fellow Mino Yanci collaborator, Somadhi Johnson, on drums, R.E.A.C.H marks an exciting stage in Damani’s career as he takes that bold step towards his introduction to centre stage.

And what an introduction this is.

With much of the music on R.E.A.C.H being born of improvisation, proceedings are kicked off with arguably the most fascinating piece on the whole album in ‘Sludge’ – the track is propelled by these heavy blasts of synths, that would likely make Herbie Hancock cock an eyebrow before the song completely transforms for its second half with this thrilling journey only taking place over the course of three and a half minutes. I certainly wouldn’t have been angrier at a further three and a half minutes of ‘Sludge’-filled bliss.

Another strong album highlight comes in the form of the album’s lead single ‘Mon Yawn Ugh’ featuring the prestigious trumpeter, Keyon Harrold. With several album releases of his own and countless collaborations with artists including Vivian Sessoms and Jay-Z under his belt, as well as subbing for Miles Davis’ trumpet in Don Cheadle’s ‘Miles Ahead’ biopic, Harrold makes an incredibly welcome contribution to the album. A further guest is introduced through vocalist Vadia, who we cited as having guested for Mino Yanci’s ‘Sho-vel’ single, and who guests on ‘Slow Dance in the Jungle’ beautifully layering her wordless vocal amidst the exquisite arrangement.

With R.E.A.C.H, Damani Rhodes is set to really see his star rise, and rightfully so. His past efforts as a part of Mino Yanci and Sol Development have led to some excellent projects but it’s now time for Rhodes to focus on sharing his own and complete musical vision to audiences who will no doubt fully embrace his talents.

Imran Mirza

Major Surgery ‘Rare Live Performances 1978’ CD (The Last Music Company) 4/5

It’s Donny from the Block! “No matter where I go, I know where I came from (from the Cronx!)”

Croydon sax legend Don Weller died earlier this year having enjoyed a career that benefited many household names including Cat Stevens, David Bowie, Alex Harvey, Gil Evans, Stan Tracey and the Jack Bruce/Charlie Watts version of Rocket 88. This live recording of his jazz-fusion band, Major Surgery, mixes Weller-penned tracks from their only album, The First Cut, with other gems that Croydonian’s(?) would have relished during an early 70s, six-year(!), booze and fags stint at the always-packed Dog and Bull pub.

Joining him in those heady, stage-much-too-close-to-the-lavs, days were drummer Tony Marsh, bass player Bruce Collcutt and guitarist Jimmy Roche. People who spent time with the man, or witnessed the band, speak with a deep fondness for him and his music. Obituaries from earlier this year suggest that I would’ve really enjoyed sharing a pint with him: “well-loved”, “self-effacing ”, “a big presence”, “idiosyncratic sense of humour”, “guileless indifference to just about any form of PR” and “an amiable bearded giant complete with beret, sandals and (sometimes) odd socks”. In fact, his beret lust led to him hustling a beret sponsorship off Kangol for his 16 piece Big Band’s head!

I’m sure you’re getting the picture by now but let me give one last example of why I so warmed to him: His long time sparring partner, Art Themen, fondly/irritatedly remembered him phoning while Art was attempting to get the hang of a Cedar Walton tune, “I’m practising” Art said. “Practising?” Don replied incredulously, “that’s cheating!”

So, the music then. The typically-for-them (atypical for everyone else) titled “Fred Bear the Threadbare Bear” roars off proceedings. It’s a rollicking, 6 minute 70s fusion with the 4 piece now augmented by Pete Jacobsen on keyboard. It runs freely but punches accurately and hard when it needs to. The musicianship is a joy – lots of just behind and just ahead one-upmanship. Stylistically it comes from an old bop head, soul-jazz type of fusion rather than a rock fusion – more like Les McCann’s stuff than, say, Mahavishnu or Brand X.

“Old Useless and White” (I know the feeling, mate) grooves effortlessly as Collcut and Marsh prod it along and Weller circles an evolving, slightly angular, motif that could easily be the pre-edited theme for a 70s TV comedy. Roche and Jacobsen deliver breezy, incremental solos.
The 12-minute solofest, “Shrimpboats”, (I don’t know the feeling, mate) starts with a Mahavishnu-esque cosmic, flanged guitar arpeggio and Weller/Jacobsen atmospheric washes before Weller grabs it by the throat with a muscular but melodious solo. Roche, Jacobsen, Weller again (with some funky, hard chopping guitar from Roche) then, finally, Marsh all take spots before close.

“Beans” is a protein/fibre rich, late-afternoon-at-a-festival blues with Roche and Weller throwing down engaging, heartfelt solos before Jacobsen goes off on an incongruous space jazz guitar emulation. Next, and totally unexpectedly, is his passionate, classical solo piano, mood-exploration entitled “A Touch of the PJs”. It segues into Roche’s Hendrix-inspired intro to “Six/Nine” which genty shifts into Weller’s spiritual space before it drops into a Marvin Gaye romancing groove with Roche getting heavy soul-busy in support. It finally rests in the divine again. Weller’s an absolute star on this track.

The finale, “Tightrope”, is eastern blues meets a fusiony Starsky and Hutch. Its effusive flow, with everybody again trying to sit just behind or ahead of each other, is compelling and lovable.

So, OK, the sound’s not great but considering it started off on a cassette recorded in a pub it’s pretty damned remarkable actually. The major positive throughout is that the player’s character and joy is palpable. I didn’t need to read the obituaries to understand Weller was warm, witty, big, integrous, idiosyncratic or that he was up for a laugh and a beer or two. All of those things are evident from the music. It’s charming and humorous and the musicianship frequently catches you off guard. You come away wishing you had been there in the Dog and Bull every week, pint glass and fag in hand, marvelling at both their playing and your good fortune that this was happening down your local.

Ian Ward

Mulatu Astatke + Black Jesus Experience ‘To Know Without Knowing’ LP/CD (Agogo) 4/5

Mulatu Astatke, legendary vibes player and pioneer of Ethio-jazz in the 60s and early 70s has teamed up with Melbourne based Black Jesus Experience to create an eclectic array of transcontinental fusions in a second musical collaboration following Cradle Of Humanity in 2016.

Black Jesus Experience or BJX are a diverse nine-piece band, not only from the perspective of the band members heritage, Moroccan, Maori, Zimbabwean, Ethiopian but in their age range as well, from veteran pianist Bob Sedergreen to percussionist Kahan Harper who toured with Astatke from just 12 years of age.

‘Mulatu’ the album’s first track is a reworking of an early classic tune by Mulatu Astatke. The gently hypnotic vibraphone groove of the original is retained as a sound layer in a more contemporary setting but with phrases and echoes of the earlier variation. The piece is driven forward with the precision of Ian Dixon’s trumpet and velocity of James Davies’ rhythm section. At around four and a half minutes the band up the ante and MC Mr Monk interjects with some lyrical laments regarding the state of Aboriginal land rights in Australia right now, ‘survivors of genocide and displacement in this modern-day playpen’ as well as stating his intention to whet our appetite with some ‘Ethiop-flavour’.

I found it satisfying to compare this version of ‘Mulatu’ with his 2009 collaboration on the same tune with London based Heliocentrics, to my ear that version sounds somehow darker and more contained, the groove fitting around it more closely. The Northern hemisphere version contrasting with the brighter more expansive sounding Southern hemisphere take on the theme.

Astatke’s vibes are not prominently featured on the album and after the first tune really only come to the fore towards the close of the record. ‘Blue Light’ a lower key more serene piece with a beautiful trumpet part by Ian Dixon. ‘A Chance To Give’ is a great example of the band weaving their stylistic threads together with a delicate guitar melody from Zac Lister which achieves a simultaneously modern and nostalgic feel that Mulatu’s sinuous vibes occupy like a dream.

As well as Mulatu Astatke the other Ethiopian voice on the record is that of Enushu Taye whose interpretations of Ethiopian wedding songs bring a distinctive sense of place to the music. There’s jazz here and there’s Ethio-jazz here but then there is this other realm altogether that her voice occupies. Somehow the band absorb these diverse influences and rework them to give us something new and vital.

James Read

Read also:
Mulatu Astatke ‘Mulatu of Ethiopia’ LP/CD (Strut) 5/5
Mulatu Astatke ‘Sketches of Ethiopia’ LP/CD (Jazz Village) 4/5
Mulatu Astatke ‘Mulatu Steps Ahead’ 2LP/CD (Strut) 4/5
Mulatu Astatke and the Heliocentrics ‘Inspiration Information’ LP/CD (Strut) 4/5

Pan Amsterdam ‘HA Chu’ LP/CD (Def Pressé) 4/5

“Two scratches, beef jerky and a Powerball”. Iggy Pop’s guest appearance on Pan Amsterdam’s ‘Mobile’, from his EP ‘Elevator Music, Vol. 1’, still infectiously runs through my head bringing a smile with it every time. In UK Vibe’s review of the ‘Elevator Music’ EP, I mentioned my affection for the closing 90 seconds of this song which features Iggy’s line repeated over that time backed by trumpet by Leron Thomas as just a great moment within a great track. The mish-mash of styles captured within that moment still remains the perfect representation of everything great about Pan Amsterdam…

The off-kilter rapper who has met with incredible success when paired with similarly inspired production is famed as the alter ego of New York jazz musician, Leron Thomas. Thomas seems to revel in presenting himself through various musical facets from his jazz roots on the New York circuits playing amongst various ensembles to ‘Leron Thomas’ – the frontman and lead vocalist for the R&B/disco-inspired project, ‘Cliquish’ (Heavenly Sweetness, 2015). The creation of Pan Amsterdam with Def Pressé marked a further stage in Thomas’s evolution that has seen him seemingly refuse to sit still.

The Iggy Pop connection extended into Thomas’s heavy involvement for Iggy’s ‘Free’ project which went in tandem with the album’s accompanying tour. And following the release of ‘Elevator Music, Vol. 1’ last year, Thomas has continued releasing music under his R&B guise with the UK’s Lewis Recordings housing the singles ‘Corporate’, ‘Blind’ and the Kid Creole & The Coconuts cover ‘Endicott’, all in the run-up to the full-length release ‘More Elevator Music’ – released on the same day as Pan Amsterdam’s ‘HA Chu’ no less!

Which brings us to the album in question, ‘HA Chu’ – the highly anticipated eighteen track album, released through Def Pressé and a project that has best been described as “the sonic retrospective of Pan Am’s international touring experience”. Throughout ‘HA Chu’, the varied and somewhat unpredictable nature of Amsterdam’s music is captured throughout even through the variety of producers involved in the project – French DJ and producer GUTS delivers with the strong album highlight ‘Carrot Cake’, Madison Washington’s Malik Ameer delivers with the eclectic and vibrant ‘Al’s Courtyard’ along with a pair of more menacing compositions in ‘Dried Saliva’ and ‘Trix’.

Sometimes with hip-hop releases, the right combination of rapper paired with apt production can allow you to just bask in the magic they’ve created. With Pan Amsterdam releases, however, although the combination is just right as regards to the production, Amsterdam is still very much the centrepiece here as you still find yourself listening intently to every line, every word, not wanting to miss any of it. His charm has always rested within his witticism and unique perspectives of the world as emphasised through numerous pop culture references: “Shinin’ like Nicholson, wielding an axe” (‘Kubrick’, 2019), “I kinda just leave it there, with the comfort of knowing, that I’m somewhat self-aware, I kiss my own derriere” (‘Dried Saliva’) or “What’s love got to do with it? Nutbush, I’m through with it” (‘Hall N Oats’).

As has been the case for Leron Thomas for a while now, the question will now be ‘what will he do next?’ With so many creative avenues open to him, it could practically be anything and while the wait will be interesting, ‘HA Chu’ will keep fans more than happy in the meantime.

Imran Mirza

Read also:
Pan Amsterdam ‘Elevator Music Vol. 1’ (Def Pressé) 4/5

Astral Travelling Since 1993