Nate Morgan ‘Journey Into Nigritia’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

Nate Morgan’s excellent debut album, ‘Journey Into Nigritia’, was recorded in 1983 and released on Nimbus West; a community-spirited label based in Los Angeles. Along with similar labels such as Black Jazz, Strata-East and Tribe, many of the recordings from Nimbus have become increasingly more collectable and this latest reissue from Pure Pleasure Records is another highlight from the catalogue, revisited and restored with a high-quality pressing and the sleeve notes as per original.

Pianist/composer Nate Morgan was an integral part of the Los Angeles’ underground jazz scene that centred around Horace Tapscott and his artist collective ‘Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA)’. Before joining up with the L.A. based community to record for the Nimbus West record label, Nate Morgan recorded alongside many well-known artists during the 1970s adding his personable style to not just jazz but the soulful spectrum alongside names including Chaka Khan and Willie Hutch. After becoming an integral member of Horace Tapscott’s collective, Nate Morgan contributed for over 30 years with collaborations continuing up until around 2011, as a valued member of the Build an Ark collective alongside names including Phil Ranelin, Dwight Trible and Carlos Niño. Nate Morgan’s influence and contribution spread much wider than music. His support and work with the concerts for Drew organisation helped raise over 2,000,000 in scholarships over 18 years for The Charles R.Drew University of Science & Medicine in Los Angeles.

Joining Nate Morgan on the album are Dadisi Komolafe on alto saxophone, Jeff Littleton on bass and Fritz Wise on drums. As expected, the compositions and music is of the highest quality and varied yet holding together as a whole. The opening track ‘Mrafu’ is the most recognizable and memorable. The piece was included on Kyoto Jazz Massive’s excellent Nimbus compilation in 2006 and Soul Brother’s ‘African Spirits’ collection in 2004. Pianist Nate Morgan and altoist Dadisi Komolafe add a real spark to the occasion on this track. Dadisi’s bold lyrical tone and Nate’s flowing runs perfectly mesh and catalyze into a wonderful piece that is altogether memorable and rhythmically captivating. Faint reminders of 1970’s Horace Silver and Pharaoh Sanders add a familiarity without any sense of a tribute.

‘Morning Prayer’ builds an image of a new day ahead. It’s a memorable solo piece by Nate Morgan with the pianist waking up the day with a firm expressive and flowing tone that perfectly catches an image. There’s a punctuating style that is reminiscent of McCoy Tyner with ease and warmth of depth and anticipation.
‘Mother’ is a superb modal piece that effortlessly glides in motion shifting gears with connectedness and fluidity. It’s another highlight from the album and one that combines the pensive infectious touch of Nate Morgan with Fritz Wise’s inspiring drumming which locks into the journey and brings out something special.
Nate Morgan really stretches out on ‘Study in C.T.’, this tribute to Cecil Taylor is an explorative piece with a more intensely angled approach than the rest of the album. It’s a really adventurous composition that allows the quartet to stretch out and bring a more probing free feel to the piece.

Every track on the recording offers a slightly different glimpse into the artistry and style of the leader and his quartet who had an in-depth understanding of each other. ‘Journey Into Nigritia’ is another deep and memorable album to have arrived from the Los Angeles’ jazz community centred around Horace Tapscott, Tom Albach and all the artists and contributors involved with the various aligned projects. Pianist Nate ‘Mrafu’ Morgan was an important part of the underground jazz movement and this excellent album documents a poignant place in time and space.

Mark Jones