Ambiance ‘Into A New Journey’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 4/5

Ambiance’s ‘Into A New Journey’ album was originally released in 1982 on the Los Angeles based private press record label Da Mon Records, a self-financed enterprise that allowed for short runs of each of Ambiance’s albums, at a time when avenues for distribution were restricted for many independently funded labels. The album quickly fell below the radar and became a highly sought after item amongst collectors of jazz and Private Press material, occasionally cropping up at the more specialist jazz record fairs around the world with a hefty price tag. The record has been on many of the more nuanced jazz record lists for years and finally arrives again courtesy of the BBE team. As usual with the label, the emphasis on presentation and high quality of sound represent the original to the best possible level.

This obscure jazz masterpiece is led by Nigeria-born, LA-tutored multi-instrumentalist, arranger, producer and photographer Daoud Abubakar Balewa, who studied with some of the great jazz innovators including Jackie McLean and Frank Mitchell, who played with The Jazz Messengers. ‘Into A New Journey’ features a superb group of little known talented musicians from different backgrounds, resulting in a fascinating idiosyncratic mix of Latin, Brazilian, afro and soulful spiritual quality.

Considered to be the pinnacle from the group’s six recordings between 1979 and 1986, ‘Into A New Journey’ carries a warmth and energy that is captivating and beguiling. As well as four original compositions by Daoud Abubakar Balewa and guitarist Jim Lum, Chick Corea’s compositions ‘500 Mile High’ and ‘Windows’ and Joe Henderson’s modal classic ‘Black Narcissus’ are firm choices that elicit the quality and character from the group.

On ‘500 Miles High’, a memorable jazz fusion track from the Chick Corea 1972 ‘Return To Forever’ album, the group bring a particularly attractive slant to the piece with the vocal pitch and tone similar to that of vocalist Irene Datcher and her contributions with Tarika Blue on tracks including ‘Truth Is The Key’. There’s a warm padded sound and some great changes in tempo accentuated by Danny Newmark on electric piano and drummer Danny Yamamoto. Both the drummer and June Kuramoto, who brings the Japanese Koto instrument to the album, were also both members of the group Hiroshima and they bring a welcome variant and quality to the recording.

The title track, ‘Into A New Journey’, is an exhilarating percussive uptempo track that combines a Manu Dibango style chant with the spiritual vocal harmonies of Monife Balewa adding a particular feel that is off kilt and never dull. Daoud Abubakar Balewa places the alto and tenor saxophone to one side, focusing on his percussive talents with Bells [African], Agogô, Shekere, Berimbau, Cuica, Shekere [Agbe] stepping into focus. The track aired memories of Marius Cultier and Guem with its dynamic wide-angled approach.

The lush and warm vocal track, ‘Something Better’, brings the leader and wife together, with words about taking some time out and putting the handbrake on, which seems a timely message and it adds a perfect insight into the overall feel that the leader and wife producer Monife wished to convey throughout the album with both sound and instrumentation.

On Joe Henderson’s classic modal composition ‘Black Narcissus’ Daoud Abubakar Balewa’s distinctive style of saxophone brings an expressive quality that adds a refreshing appeal. It seems a good choice to have included this piece as the group appear to have an affinity with this modal offering which allows Kimo Cornwell’s keyboard style more space.

On ‘Windows’ the vocal harmonies of Monife Balewa effortlessly links up with the saxophone stridings of partner Daoud Abubakar Balewa adding a welcome cosmic slant to Chick Corea’s soulful fusion classic, whilst the energetic bass of Randy Landis and piano of Danny Newmark add a perfect counterweight for this effervescent arrangement.

Featuring alongside Daoud Abubakar Balewa, who plays a multitude of instruments including Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Keyboards and percussion instruments are Vocalists Monife Balewa and Atiji Malomon, Guitarist Jim Lum, Tyrone Ponder playing Apito [Samba Whistle], Randy Landis on Bass, Danny Yamamoto on Drums, Rick Smith on African Drums, Danny Newmark on Electric Piano and Fender Rhodes, June Kuramoto on Koto, Jim Thornburn and Kimo Cornwell on Keyboards and Acoustic Keyboards.

Another essential and important album from the West Coast Private Press jazz scene during the early 1980s period, centred in and around Los Angeles.

Mark Jones