Azanayah ‘The One’ (Jazzman) 4/5

This is a virtually unknown album in the spiritual jazz idiom that dates from 1987 and was totally out of kilter with prevailing trends at the time in urban America and in style harks back rather to the early 1970s. Azanayah were a group based in Atlanta, Georgia, who were the brainchild of bassist Mamaniji Azanayah, originally born in London to Jamaican parents, but emigrated to the States during his early teens. Azanayah’s formative influences reflect his catholic taste in music and took in ska, early reggae as well as jazz and classical elements. However, it was upon hearing John Coltrane’s ‘Greensleeves’ that he developed a serious passion for jazz and later he would investigate the Miles Davis back catalogue alongside Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters. This one-off album originally was only pressed up in five hundred copies and as such is an extremely rare item. The music itself reveals the influences of Pharoah Sanders from his Theresa releases and in general albums on the Strata East and Tribe labels. The eight piece line-up interestingly included guitarist Shaka and on five pieces the vocals of Theresa Morton who both provide some welcome variety to proceedings. Nonetheless the compositions are primarily instrumental with small vocal segments sometimes incorporated at the very beginning. Indeed there are quasi-religious chants on the opening to the title track, but these rapidly give way to a heavy modal bassline and echoes of the seminal ‘The creator has a master plan’ that Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas immortalised. The soulful tenor saxophone of Immanuel Zechariah and the harp-like use of guitar are prominent features here. Evidence of Caribbean musical roots surface on the excellent ‘Let God come first’ which is folkloric in nature with flute and guitar combining. Arguably the most spiritual composition on the whole set is ‘Praise’ which is a deeply meditative piece featuring lyrical soprano saxophone and fine guitar work. Possibly the most immediate number is ‘I will surely come again’ which, in its veering between bop-inflections, gospel tinged vocals and freer form, sounds like a direct descendent of Sanders’ ‘You’ve got to have freedom’. Overall a deeply satisfying re-issue and Jazzman are to be commended for unearthing this release which would otherwise have been consigned to the forgotten artists list. Tim Stenhouse