Takuya Kuroda ‘Fly Moon Die Soon’ LP (First Word) 5/5

‘Fly Moon Die Soon’ is the new album from New York-based trumpeter, Takuya Kuroda. For the staggering achievement of his sixth album, Kuroda now finds himself partnered with the fantastic First Word Records – home to such varied and indelible talents including Children of Zeus, Kaidi Tatham and Ross McHenry, and now home to one of the most revered trumpeters working today.

With his extensive partnership with José James going on to expose Kuroda to whole new audiences – with their first recordings dating back to James’s sophomore album ‘Blackmagic’ in 2010 – Kuroda’s versatile and expansive pool of inspiration has seen him featured as a key component for several projects. Work as a part of Team José James aside, for now, Kuroda has also performed as part of the legendary DJ Premier’s Badder Band which also saw extensive touring, as well as his work on Japanese vocalist Nia’s self-titled album released through Ropeadope Records which saw Kuroda helm the production on surely one of his most under-rated projects.

While perhaps best cited as a jazz artist, Kuroda’s sensibilities have always extended far further with afrobeat forming such a huge part of his musical makeup. From having performed with Akoya Afrobeat and having secured the revered Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra for a track on his ‘Zigzagger’ album (Concord Records, 2016), Kuroda’s affection for the genre has always permeated into his own compositions so it’s particularly exciting that ‘Fly Moon Die Soon’ continues that tradition but still finds itself celebrating other styles throughout.

Vocalist Corey King, who appears on album opener ‘Fade’ and the project’s lead single ‘Change’, helps lead the charge for exciting new sonic explorations perhaps best not so synonymous with Kuroda’s music up to this point. Over the course of the nine tracks presented here, ‘Fly Moon Die Soon’ really affords Kuroda the opportunity to bask within these genuinely luxurious slices of cosmic soul – an aesthetic further developed by the K15 and Earl Jeffers remix (under the guise of “Kearl”) of ‘Fade’ released late-August. ‘ABC’ potentially serves as the album’s greatest excursion into the aforementioned realms of afrobeat while the album’s title track once again finds itself comfortably finding its footing within these seemingly disparate genres that beautifully bind jazz, to afrobeat, to ethereal soul.

Always one to tip his proverbial hat towards his heroes, as he has in the past through his covers of Donald Byrd’s ‘Think Twice’ (‘Zigzagger’) and his inspired nine-minute rendition of Roy Ayers’ ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’ featuring José James (‘Rising Son’, Blue Note, 2014), here, we see Kuroda tackle the Ohio Players through his cover of ‘Sweet Sticky Thing’ which boasts an excellent guest vocal from Alina Engibaryan, and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Tell Me A Bedtime Story’.

‘Fly Moon Die Soon’ marks a thrilling new direction for Takuya Kuroda who has created an album that brings to the table all the styles he has been celebrated for throughout his career but, through First Word Records, is able to find exciting new ways to build upon his already eclectic musical legacy.

Imran Mirza

CéU ‘APKÁ!’ LP/CD (Six Degrees) 3/5

Some eight years have passed since we had the Six Degrees’ ‘Caravana Sereia Bloom’ CD arrive, with flavours of Gal Costa and Marisa Monte on the first spin. It was far from the normal Brazilian vocal albums we were familiar with, rather much more of a modern gritty affair – a comparison in how Marcelo D2 has approached hip hop and the ever-changing music of Brazil. That “difference” is a refreshing one as edgy synth patterns compliment CéU rather than the acoustic guitar we come to expect from the genre. And little has changed with her methods but her platform has risen considerably with this release from her last award-winning album, ‘Tropix’, bringing on board Hervé Salters (General Elektriks), Pedro Sá (think Caetano Veloso), Marc Ribot and Seu Jorge to further explore her own electric sound.

Her sixth album, APKÁ!, which hit Brazilian shops last year, gathers together a selection of 11 songs, some written or co-written by São Paulo native Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças, and others by Dinho (‘Make Sure Your Head Is Above’) and Caetano Veloso (‘Pardo’). Three singles have already been lifted from the album; ‘Coreto’ – a lo-fi laid back beat-driven piece, ‘Corpocontinente’ – a dark and moody song, and ‘Forçar O Verão’ – a European sounding trippy electronic pop number. Of the remaining songs ‘Make Sure Your Head Is Above’ is one of two English language cuts, this revolving around Marc Ribot’s guitar and a track that works very well, the other being ‘Eye Contact’, a choppy electronica song with Brasil’s duo, Tropkillaz, taking a step to the left with the arrangement. As for the Portuguese songs, ‘Pardo’ stands out with a moody backdrop from Seu Jorge, ‘Ocitocina’ conjures up the hedonistic state and ‘Nada Irreal’ feels like it wants to join a reggae boot camp.

Where I feel CéU best captures her own style is in ‘Fenix Do Amor’, allowing for vocals and textures combined with the clear electronic base layer her albums all seem to wear. It’s very original and really does set her apart from her contemporaries. Oh and the closest we get to ‘that’ typical bossa sound we relish is on ‘Off (Sad Siri)’ with Pupilo (Romário Menezes de Oliveira Jr) layering the beats.

With throwaway keywords Electronic, Jazz, Latin, Funk, Soul, Afrobeat, Bossa Nova and Experimental used in the promotion of the album I feel it can all be misleading to those that involve themselves with some or all of those fields. SéU doesn’t fit in any of those bags but brings them all as the foundation of her own unique, sometimes folky, vision of her music of which the musical pigeon-hole has yet to go into production.

Steve Williams

Read also:
Céu ‘Caravana Sereia Bloom’ CD (Six Degrees) 3/5

Fabiano do Nascimento ‘Prelúdio’ LP/CD (Now-Again) 5/5

Prelúdio is Fabiano do Nascimento’s third album to be released by Now-Again Records, following the excellent Dança dos Tempos and Tempo dos Mestres. The young Brazilian guitarist once again teams up with long-term collaborator, drummer/percussionist Ricardo ‘Tiki’ Pasillas. Whilst continuing to follow familiar territory, that of Brazilian folkloric, jazz, bossa-nova and samba music, this release, however, is the first album to focus entirely on do Nascimento’s own compositions.

The music recorded here is stunning. I loved the guitarist’s previous releases, but to my mind, Prelúdio is on a different level. do Nascimento’s compositions show a clear maturity and confidence, whilst retaining a joyous youthfulness and energy. There’s a warmth and understated feel to the whole session that exudes class, with the guitar and drums duo appearing to relish working together on this wonderful original material.

More refined than its preceding releases, Prelúdio sparkles with invention. do Nascimento plays 8 string, 7 string, 6 string and soprano guitars and also provides vocals. The subtlety of his vocals perfectly complement his guitar playing, as indeed do the drums and percussion. 10 original tunes grace this album and I have found myself playing it over and over again, utterly enthralled by what I’m hearing.

do Nascimento’s music is obviously steeped in the heritage and tradition of Brazilian music, bringing to mind the likes of Hermeto Pascoal, Egberto Gismonti and Baden Powell, but he clearly has his own voice, imaginatively, thoughtfully and intelligently bringing a new era of Brazilian guitar to the ears of the waiting world.

The dialogue between guitar and drums sounds so intuitive that the vibe created throughout the whole session is one of musical friendship and togetherness, the perfect marriage of virtuoso instrumentalists. From the lyrical, lively, awe-inspiring opener “Rio Tapajós” through to the mesmerising melancholia of the closing piece “Trem-Bala”, the journey is intoxicating, exquisite and compellingly beautiful.

This album is sublime. Beautifully crafted music performed with warmth, skill and maturity. Fabiano do Nascimento has quite simply created a quietly assured and inspiring masterpiece. It’s fair to say this one won’t be leaving my turntable for a fair old while.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Fabiano do Nascimento ‘Dança dos Tempos’ LP/CD (Now-Again) 4/5

Babatunde and Phenomena ‘Levels Of Consciousness’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 5/5

The now 73-year-old American percussionist, Michael ‘Babatunde’ Lea, whose inclusion to the Oneness Of Juju hall of fame, is joined on this late-1979 release by famed trombonist Julian Priester (Sun Ra, Max Roach, Buddy Rich), trumpeter Eddie Henderson (Norman Connors, Herbie Hancock, Charles Earland), trumpeter Forrest Buchtel (Malo, Coke Escovedo, Woody Herman) and trumpeter/synthesist Mark Isham (Charles Lloyd, Taj Mahal, Dave Liebman) together with newcomers of the time, Hiroyuki Shido on electric bass, Marvin Boxley on electric guitar, Cedric DéonBi on lead vocals, Duane Roberson on keys, William Murphy on tenor saxophone and flute, Russell Baba and Martin Fiero on alto saxophones and Jose Najera with congas and additional percussion. A San Francisco-based band of outstanding musicianship and the only gathering under the ‘Phenomena’ umbrella recorded in the Sausalito, California studios for Theresa Records.

Independent label, Theresa, founded in 1976, had been making waves with Joe Bonner, Rufus Read and Idris Muhammed when they held a talent festival gathered for four nights in December of 1979 with Pharaoh Sanders and band (Pharaoh jumping over from Impulse due to musical differences with Norman Connors), David Hardiman, Ed Kelly Ensemble, Bishop Norman Williams and the One Mind Experience plus Babatunde and Phenomena at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach. As was very much a corporate decision of the times, the pre-Christmas release would serve to hinder sales as it couldn’t break through the ‘crossover’ jazz and disco atmosphere – remember, 1979 was the year disco peaked! Critics and radio stations weren’t picking up on the release and thus the album didn’t break the top 40 jazz charts where the likes of Bob James, Pat Metheny Group and Angela Bofill resided. Record sales, in general, were slowing down and many retailers were unwilling to order stock from new acts and less willing to choose styles other than crossover jazz. This release must have been the first for Theresa’s newly appointed national promotion director, Michael Handler, who had jumped ship as musical director for KLCC-FM in August of 1979. A bad start for a new job? Or did it have more to do with the ears of the public latching on to Herb Alpert, who could do no wrong…

Lea, inspired by drummer Babatunde Olatunji at a young age, adopted the ‘Babatunde’ name and used his weapons of choice; drums, timbales and congas to deliver his self-penned, jazz-funk title track and ‘Plea From The Soul’, with band member Duane “Muziki” Roberson writing ‘Thailand Stick’ and ‘Merely A Suggestion’, Marvin Boxley penned ‘Thang (And I Love It)’ and ‘It’s That Simple’ and Russell Baba’s composition ‘Use Your Hands (A Message To The Children)’. Theresa owner, Allen Pittman, joins members of the band and Phil Crescenzo for the necessary production duties throughout. For the uninitiated, take yourselves to ‘Thailand Stick’ first, before the saxophone delight ‘Merely A Suggestion’ and on to ‘It’s That Simple’, where William Murphy’s flute solo shines brightest, and then go pick up this 180g reissue at half the price of an original. There are no fillers here folks – just killers!

This release highlights the Bay Area music growth as the new turbulent ’80s decade opened and although its reception may have been more disillusionment than praise, it has gone on to be a classic. The ’90s, when the thirst for such soul, funk and jazz mixtures was high, gave the album’s opportunity a new lease of life. Collectors, pirate radio, clubs and record fairs were the norm and ‘Levels Of Consciousness’ was on many a wants list. A larger than life release and one of the collectors’ go-to albums on the Theresa label. Having only seen a CD release back in 2003, this timely reissue comes as a relief to the exhausted availability for the original.

In recent years Lea has taught at Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania and performed alongside Dwight Trible, Ernie Watts and Patrice Rushen. Let’s hope then that Lea, and his students, feel the warmth of the record-buying world as we find solace in this crisp remastered vinyl reissue.

Steve Williams

Roscoe Weathers ‘I’ll Remember’ LP/CD (Jazzman) 4/5

Born in Memphis, Tennessee back in 1920, multi-instrumentalist, Roscoe Weathers would go on to work with Vern Mallory and tour with pianist and prolific black musical arranger Fletcher Henderson, who would take under his wing Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Roy Eldridge. Weathers would also work alongside pianist and bandleader Jay McShann, whose band included Charlie Parker. There’s a tour of Europe, a visit to Mali, a term in Seattle and more recognised gigs through Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Monica all in the mix before the Beat Scene provided regular work and the opportunity to appear at common jam sessions when poets Lawrence Lipton and Shanna Baldwin-Moore were in attendance. The famous Gaslight Café in MacDougal Street, New York, where poets Bob Ludin and Allen Ginsberg cut their teeth would prove to be a perfect setting for Weathers, and although no evidence of it, I’m sure he benefited too from the “Rent a Beatnik” craze of the era. His sharp flute work and experience would have served him well as Ted Jones, Gregory Corso and LeRoi Jones took Greenwich Village to the next level. Some of the exciting musicians behind the words at this time included Walter Bowe, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Danny Barker, Ephie Resnick and Kenny Davern.

Here we are introduced to an archival collection of recordings spanning the ’60s compiled by passionate label Jazzman. Roscoe Weathers, with his Quintet and Orchestra, produced one album in ‘His Sterling Flute And Piccolo Around The World’ and several 45s of which 9 of the 11 tracks included first appeared between 1959 and 1971. The remaining 2 tracks have eluded this writer as to their origin – the album’s sleeve note refers to an album called ‘Roscoe Weathers Quintet’ which could indeed be the source – remember we are talking about the label that “digs deeper”… ‘Blue Cha Cha’ pops up in both 1959 and 1962 – awarded 3 stars on both occasions by Billboard – with ‘Dandelion Wine’ later in 1971, when one might assume the album’s release year, with dates for the others during the 60s with ‘Root Flute’ attracting attention in the October 1960 Cash Box magazine.

‘Poem for Anna’ is our first piece of music, and the only none-Weathers’ penned piece. The rolling piano chords and Latin rhythms are exquisite in delivery and carried through its duration with the piano taking charge – tipping its hat to ragtime with a clear Latin American belly before ‘Penny Whistle Montuna’ takes the stage. A Blues Boy Bill Johnson co-written high pitched tin whistle number, or piccolo for those than can distinguish, together with Cuban rhythms give us one of the winning numbers. ‘Yours Alone’ marches its way in next with 60s Blue Beat boldness and one I can expect attracts many a collector’s interest with a part 1 and 2 flip on the 45 from 1967.

‘Afro Latin Junto II’ is a box-ticking dancer and considerable attraction for anyone exploring the genre. A sound very much of the time but a song that invigorates today – credit on the skill of the writing here. Finger-Clicking ‘Root Flute’ succumbs to the honky-tonk, borderline nursery rhyme ‘Blue Flute’ before the run-out groove allows pause for reflection for what has been most educational.

The loud upward pitch whistle of the bobwhite is referenced on ‘The Bob White Bird’, and very reminiscent of the collaboration between Cándido Camero and Dizzy Gillespie on ‘Manteca’, elevates side B. An Afro-Latin top pick indeed. ‘Echoes’ strolls in with a jazzier mood before lifting with congas, vibes and flute exchange. ‘Dandelion Wine’, the older of the selections, carries with trumpet and saxophone lead aloft a space-age bluesy undercurrent for Weathers’ Orchestra. It’s very 60s in feel and suites the album’s choices. ‘Blue Cha Cha’, which surfaces as early as 1959 is, as one would expect, a dainty Cuban Cha Cha Cha, popular of the period which one might feel fits admirably the Beat scene. We close on ‘I’ll Remember Clover’, all pre-Jungle Book like, as it plots its course through the textures not too dissimilar to those of Johnny Lytle of the era, over its almost 9min voyage.

Altogether, this serves as a reference point for an artist who persisted with releasing his own music, at a time when there was much creativity in the industry, but perhaps few recording opportunities with the larger labels of the time. Roscoe Weathers made music we should all embrace in 2020. ‘Afro Latin Junto II’, ‘Echoes’ and ‘The Bob White Bird’ alone are worth the purchase with stunning sleeve design and impressive liner notes, which are extensive and detailed, adding further reasons for ownership – a true credit to the release, the artists therein and those of the respective families today.

Steve Williams

Idris Ackamoor ☥ the Pyramids ‘Shaman!’ 2LP/CD (Strut) 5/5

The first thing that strikes me about Shaman! is that it doesn’t sound like a new record. In fact, I thought I was listening to a reissue until I read the press release from Strut. It’s like the band have distilled the sound of the early 70s and somehow captured an atmosphere and aura of that period. I’m only too keen to lap up this stuff. It’s got to be in part due to the talents of Malcolm Catto who recorded the album at Quatermass Sound Lab. By using recording and mixing equipment that was state of the art in 1974 or thereabouts he’s created an authentic sound which gives this definitely new album a continuity with spiritual jazz releases of the 70s.

Saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Ackamoor originally founded the Pyramids at Antioch College, Ohio in the early 70s as part of Cecil Taylor’s Black Music Ensemble, a track on this release has been dedicated to Taylor. Lalibela, The Pyramids’ first album was self-released in 1973 followed by King of Kings in 1974 and Birth/ Speed/ Merging in 1976. The albums were sold in relatively small numbers at the band’s live shows. The Pyramids split in 1977.

The world had to wait almost 40 years for a rejuvenation of the band which finally came in 2015. Shaman! is the third Pyramids release on Strut following We Be Africans in 2016 and An Angel Fell from 2018. Ackamoor’s mood he says is introspective on this release, touching on “some of the issues we face as individuals in the inner space of our souls and conscience”.

The record is considerably more polished than the Pyramids 70s releases and not so far into the realms of space jazz, sounding of that era but looking back very much through a contemporary lens, presenting the past in a reimagined way. Maybe giving the Pyramids a chance to make the record they could have made had they chosen a different route on their earlier journey. The personnel for this incarnation of the band are Ackamoor (alto and tenor sax, keytar, vocals), Dr Margaux Simmons (flutes and vocals) Sandra Poindexter (violin and vocals) Bobby Cobb (guitar, mbira, effects and vocals) Ruben Ramon Ramos (acoustic and electric bass) Guile Pagliaccia (drums) Jack Yglesias (congas, percussion).

The album covers plenty of ground in its almost 89 minutes and is split into four acts. The first song ‘Shaman!’ sets off with guitar and a vocalisation reminiscent of the Blackbirds before Ackamoor comes in with his own distinct style, the thing then moves into an Afro-beat groove with a Pharoah Sanders infused sax and wonderful violin from Poindexter.

‘When will I see you again?’ asks one of the albums most memorable tunes, a list of murderous shootings, some notorious US high school incidents others terrorism-related. ‘Freak Storm comes, you better hide, you better run’ Ackamoor sings with urgency. ‘A hole opens in your heart when too soon a loved one departs’. As our minds are now preoccupied with the Covid-19 freak storm the song gains another layer of resonance.

‘Theme for Cecil’, features a heavy and funky electric bass and guitar theme and introduces some fine sax work from Ackamoor. The absence of a keyboard on the album apart from the sporadically featured keytar becomes suddenly noticeable here but perhaps Cecil Taylor, who mentored Ackamoor is represented in the rhythms of the music instead, absent but not forgotten.

‘The Last Slave Ship’ forms the first part of the final act, ‘400 years of the Clotilda’ it riffs on the theme of the final known slave ship to land its illegal human cargo at Mobile Bay, the Gulf of Mexico in 1859. The end of the final act comes with the ‘Dogon Mysteries’ it’s a take on the flavours of Mali with a fabulous Ali Farka Torré style guitar theme.

This ambitious and very listenable record comes in a sleeve adorned by the work of Japanese artist Tokio Aoyama who paints in a style akin to Mari Klarwwein’s Bitches Brew illustration. His striking imagery perfectly compliments the music of the Pyramids.

James Read

Read also:
Idris Ackamoor ☥ The Pyramids ‘An Angel Fell’ 2LP/CD (Strut) 4/5

Floating Circles Quartet ‘Humble Travelers’ CD (Self-released) 4/5

“Humble Travelers” is a bit Ronseal, in that it is an apt title. Confidently understated, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this loose, easy-going collection of simple-yet-complex tracks. Clicking the huge go button on my Pentium 486, the first title “Brockley N Peas” gave me concern. It felt like one of those jazz titles. You know the ones; “Minestrone Enigma”, “Mystery Refried Beans”, “Calamari and Catherine”. Glancing over the rest as a snippy break was honked over, I relaxed, feeling that Floating Circles were taking a more jovial angle. They’ve cast a wide net pulling in all sorts of textures and styles, resulting in something both ambient, driving, purposeful and meandering all at once.

There are constantly strong motifs and heads poking up amongst the tracks that give the listener an anchor. More akin to more modern folk-fusion-jazz like Cinematic Orchestra or Portico, but for me served a deeper experience than those two outfits. Leaning into technicality rather than trying to mask it in “atmosphere” serves Floating Circles well. The third track “Caravan Curtains” has a desert staccato guitar, metallic violin and an urgent double bass, providing all the description without being flooded with an overt field-recording sample to hammer it home. “Caravan” is one of the highlights for me, counter-pointing Arabian textures with a chamber feel. There is a deep character to it. Rather than staring at Omar Sharif emerging out of the shimmering heat with grandiose aplomb, it’s more like the human relatability of the booze at the end of Ice Cold In Alex.

Another standout is “Wading Through The Mist” that unfurls and reveals itself like a really anxious Penguin Café Orchestra track. Again, the guest violin by Johanna Burnheart is stunning. The drums open and contract the mood skilfully, while the guitar tries its best to unpick itself, and the bass hoping to hold it all together. It’s a cracking little journey that never tests my patience.

The finale of “Galactic Pedalboat Rescue Trip” is, to me, a classic travelling track. Obviously, nothing will ever usurp “Tijuana Taxi” as the Lord Regent of the descriptive travelling music, but this can be a strong contender. And it manages it without pummelling one’s ears with a car horn (admittedly). There are even strains of “Ipanema” hidden within, and that’s fine by me. I’m with them by this point, trying to hold it together after too many gawdy cocktails in the sun.

“Humble Travelers” is the right sort of not-quite-relaxed-but-still-very-relaxed tone for me. It’s not asking for too much of your attention, but if you give it you get a lot more than you think. Pitched beautifully and played with class.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe

Tomoko Omura ‘Branches Vol. 1’ CD (Outside in Music) 5/5

Making her debut for Outside In Music, Japanese violinist, composer, producer and arranger Tomoko Omura presents us with six compositions on this, her fourth album as leader. And rather exciting it is too, with her band; Jeff Miles on guitar, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Pablo Menares on bass and Jay Sawyer on drums, “Branches Vol.1” achieves a wonderful balance and harmony between all of the instruments to create a highly compelling contemporary jazz album.

Omura’s compositions are inspired by Japanese folktales and popular songs and her music is refreshingly dynamic and inventive. There’s a crispness and vitality running through this album that in my listening experience is often hard to find among violin led jazz ensembles. Omura seems to have a clearly defined feel and presence to her writing and performing, suggesting a very natural understanding of her cultural and jazz traditions, which brings an intuitive warmth and freedom of expression to the music recorded here.

In 2004 Omura relocated to America to further her studies, gaining many accolades along the way. Since moving to New York in 2010, the violinist has released several albums and gained a large amount of experience performing with many well-known musicians across many different musical genres. It’s clear to me, listening to this album, that she has successfully integrated much of this experience into her music, with a masterful creativity and originality now flowing from her bow. The mind, body, heart and soul appear to be as one as she rewards the listener with an effortlessly virtuosic performance.

It’s evident from the outset that the composer has a vision for her music that encourages a collaborative approach from all of the musicians involved. Most noticeable throughout this session is the intelligent use of instrumentation, especially the partnership between the two lead string instruments, Omura’s violin and Miles’ guitar. As the opening piece, the classic 1944 “Moonlight in Vermont” unfolds, Omura pays particular attention to the lyrical structure, which interestingly follows the ancient traditional form of a Japanese haiku poem. “Three Magic Tales” combines a lovely Japanese traditional feel with modern jazz aesthetics, putting the listener somewhere in the middle of a beautiful Japanese water-garden with drifting musical notes skating the waters. The exciting “The Revenge of the Rabbit” mixes some classy, energised soloing with a rich, rhythmic eloquence. The intro to “Return to the Moon” has an incandescent beauty that flows eloquently into the main tune itself. This is a simply gorgeous piece of music, reminiscent perhaps of a Bill Frisell piece. “Konomichi” is a well-known Japanese Folk Song, originally written by Kodak’s Yomada. It sounds familiar somehow, like a long-lost memory making its way back into the present day.

“Branches Vol.1” is an excellent album that shows in many ways the skill and maturity of a wonderful writer and musician; Tomoko Omura. On this evidence, I very much look forward to hearing Vol.2.

Mike Gates

Norman Williams and The One Mind Experience ‘The Bishop’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 5/5

Rooted in Bebop, Norman “The Bishop” Williams’ alto is a swinging affair “in the Kansas City Charlie Parker tradition”. This debut 1976 recording with The One Mind Experience was to be the first release on the Californian Theresa label – their Pharoah Sanders’ releases being widely recognised – with some 44 years passing before lovingly remastered by Ray Staff and reissued by Pure Pleasure Records. A Theresa partnership that would have Williams working alongside Hadley Caliman, Babatunde Olatunji and Dave Liebman in 1978 on the Bay Area Music Award-winning Theresa album ‘Bishop’s Bag’, for which he is perhaps better known, before a third release, ‘One For Bird’ in 1979 with Pepper Adams.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of his passing it is with celebration that we now unwrap this, his first release, and encounter two original songs penned by the leader, four by pianist/band member Paul Arslanian and one Hal Galper composition from 1971 which opens side A. Together with Pierre Obadi Baynes on drums, Michael Formanek on Electric Bass and Allen Pittman on Flugelhorn, the sextet unleashes the full weight of their energy on the opening Galper piece ‘Figure Eight’, a non-alto sax original that excels here as Williams soars through with Paul Arslanian’s keys lifting each passage to a majestic place. A stand-out piece indeed and with only one drummer!

Arslanian’s ‘Terry’s Song’ is funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter and a wonderful platform for the leader to dazzle, although there is no mistaking whose song this belongs to and pains this writer to discover there are very few releases with Arslanian featured. His writing skills return with ‘Don’t Go ‘Way Mad’, a jazz samba dance-floor monster [did I say this hasn’t seen a rerelease before now?]. We then close the first side with Arslanian’s ‘Christina’, a swinging ballad propped up by Williams’ alto. Delightful.

Flipping the disc over for Arslanian’s last composition, ‘Mr. Peabody’, I’m further convincing myself this is a showcase for Paul Arslanian and question then why there wasn’t more for us to discover. This compelling piece, supported by stunning bass playing by Michael Formanek is on par with Gary Bartz NTU Troop sprinkled with the reverence bestowed on The Headhunters. It’s already a five-star album…

The final two songs are those of the leader; ‘Trane’s Paradise’ nods to the foundation for The One Mind Experience as his own progressive church, the One Mind Temple Evolutionary Body of Christ (renamed St. John Coltrane Church) highlights his devotion to Coltrane, although very much a pity Alice Coltrane herself filed a $7.5 million lawsuit against the church in 1981 for “misrepresentation” – he would go on to write songs dedicated to Lee Morgan, Eric Dolphy and Charlie Parker – before ‘Ole’ Brown’ plays the encore. Make no mistake, Williams knew how to pull a tune together, notably having worked alongside Max Roach and Phineas Newborn Jr. The experience and energy truly unfold through the entire album.

As I ponder on how familiar this album sounds, evidence of previous encounters proves embarrassing. There are no tracks featured on any compilation I own, there is no reissue by Evidence Music during their 90s take-over to be found on CD and therefore a proven example of how important this release is, in the music, the mastering and the sense that this needs to be part of our respective collections. I applaud everyone along the journey from the San Fransisco recording date in 1970 to today with even one-time band member, Eddie Henderson, stamping his approval with liner notes. Essential listening feels like an understatement.

Steve Williams

Oneness Of Juju ‘African Rhythms 1970-1982’ 3LP/2CD (Strut) 5/5

‘African Rhythms 1970-1982’ marks the new anthology compilation by Oneness of Juju – originally released in 2001 by Strut Records, the revered label have repackaged this stunning compilation to once again introduce listeners to the forward-thinking and progressive sounds of this timeless collective with a refreshed Frank Merritt / The Carvery remastering makeover.

Founded in San Francisco in 1971, and spearheaded by saxophonist, James “Plunky” Branch, the initial incarnation of the band saw them score releases on Black Fire Records and Strata-East originally under the name of Juju before evolving into Oneness of Juju, and later, Plunky & The Oneness of Juju. Already an eclectic and diverse outfit, Plunky’s affection for “African rhythms” ultimately proved to be the driving force behind the band’s concoction of R&B and funk. But it was more than just Africa’s rhythms that served as the inspiration for what Oneness of Juju were striving to achieve through their music – Plunky and the band gravitated just as much towards Africa’s essence of rebellious music; music that depicted a stance against war and a desire for independence.

While the Oneness of Juju would go on to make music spanning over three decades – leaving the door open perhaps for future volumes of this potential reissue series – ‘African Rhythms’ explores those early years of the band’s history that saw them making a name for themselves in New York before relocating to Branch’s home of Richmond, Virginia. With a compilation boasting 24 songs, including a selection of album tracks and their most notable single releases like ‘African Rhythms’ and ‘Every Way But Loose’, there are a hefty amount of treats enclosed in the form of alternate mixes and previously unreleased tracks including the eleven-minute masterpiece that is ‘Bootsie’s Lament’. And the highlights really aren’t hard to find here – the otherworldly brilliance of ‘Space Jungle Funk’ contrasts beautifully with the mellow groove of ‘West Wind’ that I could personally listen to on a loop for hours.

Strut Records have become this incredible – and pivotal – bridge when considering their ability to connect these vastly different eras of world class music to each other. This concept of understanding where the music has come from – its past, its roots, its history – and how that understanding can, while still paying homage to the past, can pave the way for the music’s future. This year alone, Strut’s release of new projects by pianist Greg Foat (‘Symphonie Pacifique’), new singles from Nubiyan Twist (check out their 2019 ‘Jungle Run’ release as well), along with original releases from ONIPA (‘We No Be Machine’) and Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids (‘Shaman!’) are inspired and innovative projects with a vision for the genre’s future. It’s an ideology perhaps shared by James Branch, himself, all those years ago when simply percolating on the notion of what the Oneness of Juju could represent in the years going forward. While the Oneness of Juju could have been perceived to be a project ahead of its time, it’s reissues like this one that celebrates Branch’s bold approach and the awe-inspiring music that was born as a result.

“Both formats feature a 12” sized 4pp booklet featuring rare photos and a comprehensive interview with Plunky Branch within liner notes by Chris Menist.”

Imran Mirza

Astral Travelling Since 1993