Idris Muhammad ‘Boogie to the Top: The Very Best of Idris Muhammad’ (Robin Songs/Cherry Red) 4/5

idris-muhammadNew Orleans born drummer Idris Muhammad holds a special place in the history of black American music. He started off as a session musician in the mid-late 1950s performing sideman duties for the likes of Eddie Bo, Earl King and the one and only Fats Domino on ‘Blueberry Hill’ no less. By the 1960s Muhammad had both embraced Islam (his real name was Leo Morris) and had become a staple drummer for both the Blue Note and Prestige labels. This new compilation does not cover any of this earlier territory and you will need to seek out other original album re-issues (BGP, Blue Note) for those. However, what it does do is provide a useful overview of the mid-late 1970s period on the Kudu label under the production of Creed Taylor when black music was in a period of profound transition and this is reflected in the stylistic variation from jazz-fusion through to disco and funk. Soulful wailing on the lengthy opener, ‘Loran’s Dance’, is for this writer the pick of the bunch and carries on from the wonderful early 1970s Prestige albums that BGP thankfully re-issued back in the 1990s. With his impeccable studio credentials, Idris Muhammad could count on the very top session musicians and in the 1970s they did not come much better than Michael Brecker, Joe Beck, Bob James and Grover Washington Jr. with the cream of percussionists to beef up the heady stew. A stunning horn section on ‘Power of Soul’ is testimony to the quality on offer. By 1976 disco was in the mix and a funkified take on the Brazilian standard ‘Baia’ combines collective horns, hi-hat cymbals percussion and interestingly a New Orleans piano groove underneath it all. Even classical composer Chopin receives a reworking on the moody, but nonetheless deliciously funky new environment of ‘Theme for New York City’. By 1980 Idris Muhammad was back in a more traditional jazz groove and a regular drummer for Pharoah Sanders during his highly productive Theresa label tenure. Subsequently, would go on to perform regularly as part of Ahmad Jamal’s trio and other formations. The drummer passed away aged seventy-four in July 2014.

Tim Stenhouse