It’s deep Ethio-jazz from Leeds. It’s an imagined soundtrack for the imagined Belgian film director, Michel Lespaa’s, only feature before he heroically/irritatingly died of malaria due to a short supply of funds and, hence, medication on the shoot.
It’s probably got nothing to do with Douglas Preston’s book, ‘The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story’, about documentary filmmaker Steve Elkins’ search for archaeological sites in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve of eastern Honduras.
It’s The Sorcerers follow up to their much-loved eponymous debut of which the great man, Mulatu Astatke, commented “Who’s this? The Sorcerers? It’s cool! This is great. Give me the CD man!”
It picks up where the 2015 debut left off but it’s an expedition that goes into much deeper territory. It’s a multidisciplinary effort involving Joost Hendrickx (Drums), Neil Innes (Bass & Guitar), Pete Williams (Flutes, Bass Clarinet, Percussion & Xylophone), Richard Ormrod (Bass Clarinet, Vibes), Chip Wickham (Flute), Chris Dawkins (Guitar) and, undoubtedly, some underappreciated archaeologists, anthropologists, engineers, geologists, biologists and ethnobotanists without whom the film and soundtrack could never have happened.
‘Opening Titles’ sets out the album’s sonic, filmic, hypnotic stall – mild threat, sinewy bassline, head-nodding, hip-shifting, hand-clapping, flutey breathiness.
‘Treasured Sacrament’ is initially cautious and watchful. Innes’ tentative bass is wrapped up by drum, bass clarinet and flute before Williams takes up an alpha male lead flute motif and drives the band forward. ‘Overgrown Icons’ creeps and slides, portentous but mystical; the Gods are at play here.
‘Downriver’ is awash with percussive riverside jungle chatter; flute and bass rhythmically drifting. ‘Crossing the Rope-Bridge’ is more purposeful, aided by Hendrickx’s energetic kit exploration it intensifies into a bridge-now-crossed crescendo. ‘The People of the Forest’ makes me smile a big toothy grin – it’s a groovy, playful meeting with the forest’s exotic peoples that drips with oldskool Mr Benn exploitation; excitedly but smugly showing the shopkeeper some alien, romantic treasures.
‘Escape from the Catacombs’ is fiercely on the one with tight rhythmical energy, jabbing sax, percussive breaks and wah guitar. ‘Shamainc Brew’ trippily segues into the just-over-a-minute, hot mess that is the Wickham-blessed, Johnny Harris Stepping Stones feeling ‘Who is the Hunter, Who is the Prey?’. It’s a peak “Yeah, Baby! Yeah!” highlight.
How do you go about ‘Summoning The Monkey God’? Via a dirty, hard as hell, funk bassline with stacking layers of sonic beckoning and faithful ascension, that’s how. ‘End Credits’ closes the feature in The Sorcerers’ deep grooved house style; now free from fear and mission complete there’s a palpable swagger. I’m not leaving my seat until these credits have completely rolled.
At home, supping a cup of Yorkshire tea and happily engaged by Barry Smyth’s humorous, supportive liner note storyboard, I’ve been taken on an absorbing filmic journey into the deepest, darkest jungles of the Monkey God. It’s helped push Blue Monday on by a few days, and may well have cut it from the calendar completely. Due to its storyline and stylistic purpose, it may lack some sonic/emotional variety (maybe the protagonist needed a love interest?!) but it consistently succeeds as a charming, brand not-so-new bag of hot, rhythmic, breathy 60s/70s library, soundtracky Ethio-jazz joy. And it’s from Leeds. Best thing since Bielsa.