Various ‘Soul Of A Nation: Afro-Centric Visions In The Age Of Black Power Underground Jazz Street Funk & The Roots Of Rap 1968-79’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Soul Jazz) 5/5

This 13-track compilation showcases how the Civil Rights Movement and the developing black nationalism environment of the 1960s went on to directly influence music culture within jazz, soul and funk aesthetics. Drawing upon various political themes and messages, ‘Soul Of A Nation’ displays how crucial this period was for black musicians, which has since become an influence for many other contemporary artists.

Featured material include jazz footwork classic ‘Mother Of The Future’ by Carlos Garnet from 1974, a universal favourite for decades with this version featuring the vocals of Dee Dee Bridgewater, which I feel just edges the more popular Norman Connors and Jean Carn version. Written by Garnet himself and recorded six months earlier than Connor’s ‘Slew Foot’ album, is also a touch looser than the Connors’ rendition. Jean’s former husband Doug Carn is also included with ‘Suratal Ihklas’, a track not taken from his Black Jazz catalogue, but from his lesser known 1977 album ‘Al Rahman! Cry Of The Floridian Tropic Son’ (released under the name Abdul Rahim Ibrahim). This quite funky number has a somewhat Roy Ayers feel within its production.

Readers of UK Vibe will be very familiar with Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, the funkiest poem of all time taken from his 1971 ‘Pieces Of A Man’ album. Interestingly, it features a stellar line-up including Bernard Purdie on drums, Ron Carter on bass and Hubert Laws on flute. Oneness of Juju’s ‘African Rhythms’ from their debut album of the same name in 1975 is also a very well known addition to the compilation, but maybe Soul Jazz could have included the rarer alternative 7” version, as the album mix has appeared previously on numerous other compilations. The other more well known titles include the Roy Ayers classic ‘Red, Black and Green’ and ‘Black Narcissus’ by tenor sax heavyweight Joe Henderson, taken from his very fertile 1970s period with Milestone Records, where he never made a poor record.

Sarah Webster Fabio, the poet, writer and educator is an essential inclusion to the set with probably her most famous track, ‘Sweet Songs’, which has Sarah undulating over a super funky breakbeat rhythm track. Horace Tapscott with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra’s ‘Desert Fairy Princess’ contains all the hallmarks of a perfect spiritual jazz standard; an infectious 11-minute groove with luscious horns and flute, recorded live in a LA church in 1979. This and other Tapscott releases are taken from the Nimbus West label who have recently repressed some of their excellent back catalogue. Another worthy discussion point is Duke Edwards and the Young Ones ‘Is It Too Late’. Edwards, a percussionist who was at one time a member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, but this his only solo project includes this quite remarkable 10 minute emotional account of Edwards discussing the failure of humankind.

Being a Soul Jazz release, this collection features a healthy mix of obscure and more known cuts, but there isn’t a poor track amongst this compilation. This has obviously been very well curated, and yes, there are many omissions that could have been included, but hopefully there will be additional volumes in the future. And it is worth noting that this release coincides with an art exhibition at the Tate Modern, London also called Soul Of A Nation, which runs until 22 October 2017 and features the work of artists during this dramatic but crucial period in American history.

Damian Wilkes