Jon Armstrong ‘Reabsorb’ LP/CD (Orenda) 4/5

Bandleader and composer Jon Armstrong’s third album, Reabsorb, is a timely ‘meditation on our mortality’ exploring humanity’s relationship with our own mortality. The record comprises two contrasting suites of music performed by Armstrong’s sextet. Created with vinyl LP listening in mind each track spans a side of the record, the natural break enhancing the experience by drawing our attention to the contrasting nature of each piece of music. Armstrong describes it as ‘a journey from raging against the inevitable, to acceptance, towards transcendence, and the reabsorption of our spirit back into the universal consciousness of all life’. Nobody could accuse Armstrong of lacking ambition for the project which follows his well-received but somewhat ironically titled debut album Farewell from 2013 and his 2016 release Burnt Hibiscus which combined Hindustani music with poetry.

‘Hit It As Loud As Possible’, the first track does feel like a journey or a dreamlike film score to an imagined movie. It’s a multi-layered piece broken into two separately titled sections, ‘best case scenario’ and ‘they’ll mention the quiet when I’m gone’, the music is continuous and it’s up to the listener to decide where the shift is taking place. It explores a colourful sound palette by emphasizing some pretty dramatic dynamic shifts. The piece sets out with Benjamin Shepherd’s funky bass abstractions before the warm tone of Armstrong’s sax breaks away from the brass section for a very free passage showcasing the capabilities of the sextet. The brass structure just holds it together nicely keeping this listener fully engaged.

Armstrong describes his compositional technique as one where he sketches ideas out on an MPC 2000 sampler to get a sense of what might work. He wants the musicians to be ‘free to explore and take chances’. Armstrong says jazz is simply an approach to music rather than a genre which has a predetermined sound. He sees it as a way to expand the music on offer. Capturing the live sound of the band is important and they are recorded with a minimal setup. Another insight into his approach which I listened to is called ‘Cochlear Implant’, a track available on Armstrong’s website. It’s an atmospheric fusion of chamber music and ambient serial music with an uncanny living, breathing sense of being about it. Threads of this soundtrack-like music can be heard as an undercurrent on the new album.

Flipping it over now to take in ‘Loop Of Light’ which is also comprised of several passages, ‘released’, ‘light moves inside a green leaf’, ‘now I’m absorbed by green’, and ‘bouncing the loop of light’, the titles inspired by his wife Erin Armstrong’s poetry. This one builds incrementally, beginning with a passage that also has the distinctive rhythm of human breath about it. Each of the musicians come in with a satisfying precision followed by an ethereal sounding brass arrangement, I think this must be the transcendence that Armstrong was aiming for, it’s led by trombonist Ryan Dragon. The piece gradually returns to the initial setting and the loop of light is completed. At fourteen minutes it seems like a fleeting moment but that doesn’t matter because I’m going to play it again.

James Read

Emma-Jean Thackray ‘UM YANG 음 양’ 12″ Vinyl (Night Dreamer) 5/5

A Night Dreamer release is always an exciting prospect and this EP from London-based trumpeter, Emma-Jean Thackray, is no exception. As with the other records, it is a single-take live performances recorded with vintage equipment at Artone Studio in the Netherlands and cut straight to acetate. Keeping in the spirit of this concept, the septet, who also feature saxophonist Soweto Kinch, Lyle Barton on Fender Rhodes, bottom end from Ben Kelly on sousaphone, percussionists Dwayne Kilvington (aka Wonky Logic from Steam Down), Crispin Robinson (Congas) and Dougal Taylor on drums, exclusively use analogue instruments.

Thackray has reined in some of the electronic styles apparent on her other releases and has delivered two pieces of music that are dedicated to Taoist philosophy. Side A, “Um음” starts slowly with percussion and twinkling Rhodes as the horns lazily and intermittently form the three note motif. There’s more than a hint of influence from the fusion experiments of late 60s/early 70s Miles here. Cowbell and conga propels the track forward as trumpet and saxophone harmonise. Thackray’s chant is initially quiet but is increasingly assertive and culminates with the repeated phrase “All must balance”. It fades out with some exhilarating free form fieriness.

Side B, the other side, is “Yang양”. As “Um음” builds from quiet to loud, the lighter and groovier “Yang양” is a fiery start that calms. The sousaphone has quite a soft timbre which reminds me of bass doubled up with Hancockian left hand synth and its circular repetitive line builds the platform as Kinch’s leads with some robust but sensitive sax.

UM YANG음양 has clear fusion and free influences which are probably enhanced by the studio environment but there’s a modern sense of efficiency and coherence in the composition. The performance is exciting and energetic but there’s also warmth and beauty. A success and one of my favourites of the year.

Kevin Ward

Live shows:
Nov 18 Headrow House, Leeds, UK
Nov 19 Hare and Hounds, Birmingham, UK
Nov 20 Band On The Wall, Manchester, UK

Keith Jarrett ‘Budapest Concert’ 2LP/2CD (ECM) 5/5

Keith Jarrett’s European tour of 2016 seems to have been something of an Indian Summer for the great pianist/composer/improviser. ECM released “Munich 2016” earlier this year, a sparkling, life-affirming solo performance that ranks highly in a long line of live solo concerts that date back to the early 70’s. Budapest Concert, recorded at the Bela Bartok National Concert Hall, was recorded two weeks prior to Munich and is therefore the second complete show to be released from his 2016 tour. Jarrett’s family roots reach back to Hungary which would explain why he describes this concert as something of a homecoming – also with regard to his lifelong affection for Bartok, and how these factors inspired much creative improvisation.

I find it incredible that after all these years, and having listened to and enjoyed so many live recordings, that I can listen to a new release by the pianist and still be overcome with amazement. Budapest Concert is as inspirational as any of his solo outings, still sounding as fresh and spontaneous as if I had just been introduced to his music for the first time. There’s an energy, a power, a life-force that emanates out from the music itself, at times intensely beautiful, at times insanely dramatic, but always completely and genuinely incomparable.

As with Munich 2016, Budapest is split into parts, twelve in this case, plus the encores. Generally speaking, the first half sees Jarrett in deeper, free-flowing, experimental territory, while the second half and encores find the pianist in a more reflective, lyrical, accessible mood. The music twists and turns in astounding and incomprehensible ways, taking in styles and genres that typically cover a wide-ranging, far-reaching spectrum. But as ever, whatever road Jarrett takes us down, it is uniquely him, and unequivocally, compellingly mesmerising.

One might describe Part 1 as a no-holds-barred lengthy improvisation, with Jarrett seemingly flirting with almost incomprehensible ideas that skate on ice then plummet the depths, swimming with sharks and barely rising to the surface for breath. Part 2 is like watching the gentle ripples of the water whilst knowing there’s a darkness that lurks underneath, before revealing itself on part 3. Jarrett really gets into a groove on part 4, imaginatively leading us into the almost unexpected eloquence of part 5. As the bluesy shackles of part 6 are shaken off, the impressionistic romanticism of part 7 is beautifully soft and sweet, leading us into the incandescent elegance of part 8. The short, darting, slightly incongruous part 9 paves the way for the darker paths of part 10, with a reverential reflection at the heart of part 11. And why not round it all off with bit of boogie-woogie… yes that’d be part 12. As has become the norm with Jarrett’s encores, they are stunning, and the two tunes performed here, “It’s a lonesome old town” and “Answer me” are no exception.

Jarrett has lived an unprecedented musical journey and it is with great sadness that I have read recent news articles reporting that he has suffered two strokes over the last couple of years, leaving him unable to play piano with his left hand now. We can only send loving thoughts and hope that he remains positive, recovers as well as can be possible, and finds health and happiness in body and mind in the years ahead.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Keith Jarrett ‘Munich 2016’ 2LP/2CD (ECM) 5/5
Birthday profile: KEITH JARRETT AT 70 (including 10 Best Album Picks)
Keith Jarrett ‘A Multitude of Angels’ 4CD (ECM) 4/5
Keith Jarrett ‘Creation’ CD (ECM) 4/5
Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden ‘Last Dance’ CD/2LP (ECM) 5/5
Keith Jarrett and Michelle Makarski ‘J.S. Bach Six sonatas for piano and violin’ 2CD (ECM) 4/5
Keith Jarrett Trio ‘Somewhere’ CD (ECM) 5/5
Keith Jarrett ‘Sleeper’ 2CD (ECM) 4/5
Keith Jarrett ‘No End’ 2CD (ECM) 4/5

Aquiles Navarro / Tcheser Holmes ‘Heritage of the Invisible II’ LP/CD (International Anthem) 4/5

Aquiles Navarro (trumpet) and Tcheser Holmes (percussion) are two parts of the much-acclaimed, rightly righteous, free jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements, with whom they released the excellent “Who Sent You?” album in March of this year. If you’ve not heard it yet, you should – especially the last track, “Bread out of Stone”. Yeasty.

Navarro and Holmes were irreversibly entangled long before the collective though; they’ve been playing together since meeting as students at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Navarro, a Canadian Panamanian who came from Latin folk music via the tutelage of Victor “Vitin” Paz and Carlos Garnett and Holmes who bloomed out of Brooklyn’s tight, creative Pan-African community swiftly became brothers in musical arms. And it’s Brooklyn, at S1 Studios to be exact, where “Heritage of the Invisible II” started taking shape, resulting in 10 tracks where the duo expanded by adding layered samples; some Juno 106 and Moog Grandmother wizzery; contributions from vocalist, poet and instrumentalist friends; plus field recordings of NAVARROHOLMES dialogue.

Opener “Initial Meditation” immediately goes at it. Hard. And tense. It is a false trade description, nothing meditative about it. Not initially, middley or finally. It’s a metallic, sinusoidal, helicopter-bladed, rattlesnake throb of percussion and Moog that tees up an otherworldly Jeff Wayne foreboding that presses over and under the Spanish poet, Marcos de la Fuente’s wonderfully expressive voice.

“Plantains” is sometimes a matey, few-beers-in, chat between the fellas. But mostly it’s drums that cascade, chase and attack, attempting to demolish the hill from where a trumpet stoically, melodically, delivers its earnest, poetic message. The hillside may fragment, the hillside may crumble but the trumpet plays on.

“Pueblo” is gorgeous and uplifting. Sweet-sounding and love bringing. It’s a sultry, sensual, hip-rotating blend of trumpet, mejoranera and percussion; an adult’s urban Latin lullaby. Or as Navarro puts it: “Pueblo” is “a celebration of life, the coming together of the people, el pueblo, a celebration of who we are, where we come from, it’s our pueblo, our people, a feeling of openness, hope, and a future of unity from el pueblo, the people”

The free junglist pulse of “A Night In NY” initially speaks of the city’s energy and its comings and goings before Mother Humanity herself, the heart and soul of the community, Brigitte Zozula, reminds us of why we’re really all here. Tcheser Holmes is an absolute beast on this and throughout. “M.O.N.K (Most Only Never Knew)” is an unexpected, but glorious, closing-time-never, juke-jointy solo blues ramble by Nick Sanders on his appropriately upright piano.

The aptly named (no need for the TDA this time) “interlude interludio” is basically Navarro messing about on the Juno 106 and then shouting to Holmes “Ha. Listen! Ain’t Nobody by Chaka Khan. Right? Ha” It’s an audio amuse-bouche before the earnest, free-rolling meter that is “NAVARROHOLMES”. Damned right it’s one word. Damned right it’s in CAPITALS. Holmes takes no prisoners as he relentlessly plays cat and mouse with the Moog and Navarro’s light, impish, early 80’s computer game, single notes and detached melodies. It’s a thrilling duel as they predict each other’s next move.

“$$$ /// billete” is a bit of banter (featuring Carlos Garnett, no less), a tune-up and a tear up with cacophonous piano stabs and morse code percussion. “Father” starts with Holmes getting the deep fat fryer up to YEAH, THAT’S HOT temperature before creating a spiritual aisle for Sanders to elegantly Juno pad down. The fiercely electronic “Remix by Madam Data” is a distorted, pulsing, electrocuting, break beating climax.

This album has phenomenal energy. Its unspoken meters and overt rhythms constantly keep you on your toes. It grabs you and won’t accept anything other than your full-absorption in the stories it’s telling. And each track is choreographed and curated to make absolute narrative sense. Navarro and Holmes obviously get each other, get where each other come from and where they’re going to. They telepathically communicate in an intense and spirited shared voice.

So, NAVARROHOLMES. It’s one word, IN CAPITALS. And I hope to hear loads more from it (them)…in fact, I’m already looking forward to “Heritage of the Invisible X”.

Ian Ward

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

Astral Travelling Since 1993