HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER




Singles/EPs

If you can look away from Kanye rediscovering his Twitter password, here’s the new Rapture & Verse to clog up your social media feeds with self-amusing jpegs, resent at royal wedding snubs, and wondering who’ll step up next after J Cole’s ‘KOD’ and Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’. The saga continues when Salar examines the ‘Demigod Complex’, whose who-wants-some rhymes come wrapped in dynasty strings measuring you for a horse’s head. S. Kalibre takes the weather personal on ‘Sun and Rain’, a quiet storm looking for a sliver of light in burdened times. Bluesy keys and dipping sunshine won’t hold back Fliptrix, asserting ‘It’s Like That’ with bladed precision synching syllables against the shimmer. “If the bars don’t get ‘em, then the flow will” – Legion of Goon lump you with extra credit, ‘AIOFO’ and ‘Flashing Lights’ keeping up their strain of witty unpredictable. ‘Lock Your Doors’ is a pretty flimsy means of resistance once Ramson Badbonez does his best Jack Torrance impression, and ‘Safe’ by Kalieon won’t provide shelter from a measured pounding of the streets battling uphill.

The sweg of sarky master Lee Scott continues unabated, ‘Oh, The Fun We’re All Having’ a seven tracker finding pleasing ways to rise up from his customary wit pricking dulled psychedelica. ‘When It Rains It Pours’, and when Lewis Parker reaches cucumber temperature, it’s normally a keys and breeze classic, smoothness to the Nth degree with Verbz on the mic a good fit for street forecasting. Three times for your mind, the P Brothers’ buccaneering ‘Mentaltainment’, with Daniel Son, Doo Wop, Your Old Droog and Milano picking up and brandishing the baton, does heavyweight jail breaking you’ll lose your shoes over. On 2018’s system update of ‘don’t touch that dial’, Homeboy Sandman and Edan attempt to break superhighway shackles and ‘#NeverUseTheInternetAgain’, a fun old skool caper with a hook from the rooftops capping exasperated moral guardianship/public health warning.








Interesting spoken word/rhyming at both ends of the candle from Lausse the Cat tells the tale of ‘The Girl, The Cat and The Tree’. A cosy jazz bedding of some splendour can show its claws, and the comfortably muted storytelling joins the dots between telltale realities of love and life, and what’s going on through the looking glass. The powerful, stark prose and spectacle in the spotlight of ‘Without Certainty’ has Ceiling Demons speaking up in a bid to bring a pertinent good cause to the fore: job done if it strikes a chord or doesn’t leave you sitting comfortably. “Emotional damage, you know I’m a vet” – at the junction of heartbreak ridge and breaking point, WLK’s ‘The Gry’ EP is a bid for survival knocking you sideways: industrially scalded, claustrophobic in surround sound, and lashing out when rationality evaporates. With a Guilty Simpson-esque roughness around the edges, MIKE’s ‘Black Soap’ EP is a steel wool wash of loops and freestyle static circling the drain, that gruff command structuring and keeping heads above water.




Albums

A whiny, shrill, eyeballs bulging flow researching Cage at the height of his neuroses with a dash of Chester P: that’s the mist of Eric the Red descending on ‘Caught Red Handed’. Eric’s mugshot is front and centre while Illinformed helps himself out back, in prime form with 14 shots to the dome and his own mutinous agenda. A swift in and out job, as much about partnering in crime as trying to stitch one another up, this is a thick cut of hella lairy British beef.





Spraying bars to bleach your grey cells and decreeing “I’d rather be real shallow than fake deep”, Lunar C has got the smarts to back the undoubted brat factor. ‘Dirtbrain’ rides mischief and sledgehammers found on grime stairwells (see the scales-breaking ‘Skwolla’), with WTF wordplay goading the rewind button. But canny operations that could well take him further, show his strength for the gift of gab beyond gobbing off. Ain’t no such things as halfway crooks, but there is The Mouse Outfit’s ‘Jagged Tooth Crook’, which is neo-soul, nailed. Manchester’s late night live band stick to the script and show the usual steady steps spiced by a rota of emcees and guests.

With assistance from Earl Sweatshirt and Knxwledge, Denmark Vessey’s ‘Sun Go Nova’ is a laborious half and half of rhymes most ears won’t be ready for, and a turnaround of instrumentals riffing off of needle fluff. “For lack of a better word, it’s alternative and leftfield” says the man himself, which is putting it mildly. An insurgent radio station needing the deftest of twiddles to lock onto, follows an audience address admirable for its single-mindedness, chipping away at your defences.

If the origins and whereabouts of Pan Amsterdam lead your search engine down a dead end, ‘The Pocket Watch’ shrugs ‘so what?’ if its skittish ghetto Jackanory leads you down a rabbit hole/Never-Netherlands. Easily distracted with thought pieces of no why and wherefore, the coolest town crier refuting time and space that you’d never imagine medicates to funk, jazz and electro paying low rent but giving glints of bygone razzle dazzle. Unfazed, unconstrained, and easily up for cult listen of the year.





Instrumental scaremongering from Dew8 offers a one-way ticket to a two-way street of the outer limits and no man’s land with lo-fi ghoulishness, ‘Pigeon Feed’ perfecting the classic of letting your ears fill in the gaps for what horrors will follow. Parallel altered state ambience and patent anxiety from Sam Zircon reserved ‘For Shipping and/or Storage’ is like trying to piece together the ghosts of dreams past, offering sub zero degrees of nostalgic comfort and a boom bap itch that you can never quite get to.

Solidify your summertime listening with Dumi RIGHT’s ‘Doing It The Right Way’, the Zimbabwe Legit emcee doing user-friendly consciousness with help from Mr Lif and Mike G of the Jungle Brothers; a good one to throw on once debate breaks out over beers and barbeque. Follow suit with Offwhyte’s ‘Both Sides of the Mississippi’, packing contemplative punch from that fairly gentle, ever fluent flow of his, where rhymes manifest over perfectly matched beats until he’s the last man standing. More fire from The Doppelgangaz tells you to open wide and say ‘Aaaaggghh’. Tinted a little darker than their rockingly good ‘Dopp Hopp’, still crossing from East to West but like they’ve dimmed the high beams on the low-rider (‘Slay Bells’ demands are you listening), all praise remains due to The Cloak from one of the baddest assed pairs out there.





The love of lexicon is still the apple of Paul Barman’s eye. More than meets the ear in his answer-for-everything, stimulator kook role, ‘Echo Chamber’ carries on closing the gap between potent politics, funky lounge lizard off-the-tops and bizarre hypotheses, burrowing its way through the toughest of leather bound volumes to have you picking the bones out for weeks on end. A supporting cast of ?uestlove, Mark Ronson, Open Mike Eagle, Prince Paul, DOOM and Masta Ace means it’s not far from frickin’ awesome. Blu and Shafiq Husayn’s flaky ‘The Blueprint’ has funk to be found, but sounds like it’s constantly going in and out of tunnels while it breaks down gang divisions and geography by the most basic means possible.

Some proper old skool, four-track business out of Cali produces a re-up of The Nonce’s ‘1990’, the Project Blowed affiliates finding their feet with De La Soul-style rhymes, pointers towards Peanut Butter Wolf & Charizma and The Pharcyde, and interplay and concepts (little metaphor needed for the napkin-tucking ‘Chocolate Cake’) getting the most out of raw materials. Royce da 5’9” continues to go from strength to strength when unlocking the ‘Book of Ryan’, piled high with battles and confessionals, life lessons and fears to open eyes and ears. Given the LP’s length, ‘I’m not getting better, I’m just getting started” will make you think twice if you thought you knew everything about the man already.





With so much drama in the CNT it’s kinda hard being the LDZ. Funky DL does GTA, and Sam Krats has got the cream.













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Live Review: Words: Dominic Valvona




U.S.  Girls  Live  At  Stereo,  Glasgow,  May  19th  2018

Swapping the tape collage and loops (to a point) for the full-on experience of a live band on tour, Meg Remy seduces the Glasgow audience tonight with the most sophisticatedly sexy, often louche, of pop dynamics.

Remy is able to captivate with bittersweet pouting malady the most traumatic, darkest nature of patriarchal sexual control and seamiest aspects of capitalism whilst slinking to a cerebral mix of glitterball disco, raunchy pop fantasy and on as demonstrated on the finale from her most recent album, In A Poem Unlimited, and tonight’s curtain dropper, ‘Time’, no wave meets contorted jazzy break beats.

Embracing then, the seductive forces of pop music, Remy’s unsavory but vital exposés and therapeutic exercises in acknowledging trauma and abuse are made more palatable by this shift; and in turn reaches an increasingly wider audience. Channeling femme fatales and maverick artists such as Ronnie Spector and Gloria Ann Taylor and more modern alluring pop stars, Remy slips these dark themes under a sonic soundtrack of glorious disco, boogie and avant-garde experimentalism.

Showcasing a looser funky sound, backed by the Toronto hothouse supergroup The Cosmic Range (a collective that at any one time traverses Afrobeat, Krautrock, boogie and free-jazz), the central force of nature at the heart of what was initially a solo project, since expanded with a full cast of writers, producers and collaborators all willing her on, Remy yet again performs in character. Previously taking the brilliant (and one of our albums of 2015) Half Free out on the road with just the backing vocalist Amanda Grist (of Ice Cream fame) to keep her company, dressed like a leotard wearing Olivia Newton John, sporting a chic cropped hairdo, Remy returns with longer sporty locks, wearing a laced backed crop top, flanked by a duo of energetic male and female vocal sparring partners.

Performing more or less the entirety of this year’s album (her second for 4AD), with subtle transformed versions of Half Free tracks ‘Window Shades’ and ‘Sororal Feelings’ (made far more limbering, elastic and, again, sexy), this flexing multi-limbed incarnation of the U.S. Girls powers through, what seems, a short but explosive set.

Far too many band members to name, let alone all chronicle their ever entangling nuances and connections, Remy’s Cosmic Range troupe notably features husband and native Canadian Maximilian Turnbull, aka the space boogie guitar maverick Slim Twig, on doodling and noodling guitar duties, but also, playing his lungs out, some guy whose name I didn’t catch sucking and blowing on the tiniest of saxophones a wailing but also accentuate contortion of the Plastic Ono Band and a strung-out soul imbued Bowie.

Arriving late and already half-cut (blame the Cup Final, Royal Wedding and a surprisingly summery day in Glasgow; celebrated with liberally poured cheap Champagne from Aldi) we missed ShitKid, who I’m sure was a perfectly congruous support act. But apologies aside the vocals tonight could have been clearer, obfuscated at times by the sonic overload of the Cosmic Range, bouncing off the venues walls and the unfortunately placed concrete column that cuts the room in two. We could have also done with an encore; the band pretty quickly exiting without a word, disappearing off stage with no announcement (in fact there wasn’t any dialogue with the audience at all) at barely 9:30pm (possibly the earliest finishing gig I’ve ever been to). But despite this and though the words and subjects may get lost, the cadence, mood and anger translates into the most hypnotizing of agonies and troubling ecstasy.

Still, the Obama berating cooed disco thumper ‘M.A.H’ sounded lusher and hypnotizingly powerful live, and the twisted gospel Catholic gilted ‘Pearly Gates’ (originally featuring the soulful tones of James Bayley) was positively withering with venerated parody and a sweating chemistry between Remy and her vocal partners. The all too soon last song of the evening, ‘Time’, was a wig out of taut jamming and increasingly distressed, almost primal, screaming: A sonic funk attack.

Remy once again held the audience in her gaze and proved beyond doubt that she is one of the most exciting, dynamic and interesting artists of the last five years. Me and my entourage, and by the look of it that night, the entire Glasgow audience was enthralled anyway.

Book Review: Words: Dominic Valvona




John Howard   ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’
Fisher King Publishing,   26th March 2018

Enjoying a comfortable revival (of a sort) in what is essentially his semi-retirement, bon vivant pianist, troubadour, former A&R man and now author, John Howard has finally managed, after decades of being misguided and encumbered, to record and release a series of critically successful albums of a cerebral quality on his own terms, without the travails of middlemen and agents. The humble working class lad from Lancashire, Howard’s musical career started off with such potential but was cruelly crushed, hindered by a steady stream of miscreants, businessmen, producers and the BBC, who refused to play his singles – whether, as Howard recounts out of homophobic prejudice, or just plain ignorance we will never really know.

Signed to CBS Records in the early 70s Howard’s glittering debut LP Kid In A Big World was shunted, overproduced than reproduced, passed around and eventually mishandled, until its eventual release in 1975. Rightly revered decades later, with a number of re-releases (including a very recent celebratory version), this debut became an instant cult classic; critically adored but unable to attract commercial success, mainly as a consequence of the to and froing and mismanagement, it was met with general indifference by the public. Despite an obvious talent and potential, Howard’s stop/start career went from bad to worse until he was dropped in 1976 by CBS after various aborted projects and makeovers, including a disco pop crossover with the producer Biddu (enjoying a succession of hit records at the time off the back of Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting novelty).

Chronicling that burgeoning period in what is the first of a series of autobiographies, Howard candidly reminisces, entwining his family history and eventual move to London with his various musical mishaps and highlights, and his sexual exploits. As much a history of the perils but also free-for-all misadventures of homosexuality as the hardships of making it in the music business, the first part of Howard’s story reads like an ever-horrifying recollection of violent encounters with the most ill suited of partners. Going full circle, the book opens and finishes on one of the most life changing of these ‘incidents’, with Howard’s fateful leap from the window of an apartment he shared with some colourful Filipino gay characters (as it proved, relocating to London to escape the clutches of dictator Ferdinand Marcos), who brought back a mad Russian ‘bit of rough’ intent on murder – Howard would break his back and smash both his feet in the fall. Incidents Crowded With Life then, is recounted via his recuperation; the formative years looked back on with mostly a fondness as a modest curtain is raised ‘on the living-room in a semi-detached council house in Heywood, Lancashire.’






Observations, asides are mixed with the musings on the musicians that inspired him: Dylan, The Beatles, Mothers Of Invention, Incredible String Band, Bolan and of course Bowie. Signs that Howard wasn’t exactly cut from the same Catholic cloth as his family are made abundantly clear when at an early age he develops a crush on PJ Proby – whilst his sister is clamoring and screaming for the Fab Four -, replaces religious symbolism for posters of the elfin beatific Bolan, and as the book’s quote so aptly puts it, ‘swaps the guilt for gilt’. Not that dear Mum and Dad minded; their humble upbringing causing some uncomfortable situations, yet hardly the stuff of fire and brimstone puritanical condemnation. Though they were right to worry about their lad; especially when you read about his stunningly naïve exploits and trusting nature. Incidents that include a savage beating by a thuggish minor East End gangster lover, a lucky escape from a gang rape whilst holidaying in Malta, and an even luckier escape from a serial killer -posing as a taxi driver – in New York. It’s not all bad though, Howard has just as much fun throwing caution to the wind and partaking with abandon in orgiastic gatherings on Hampstead Heath.

Despite experiencing some of the most traumatic escapes, Howard’s accounts are free of victimhood. In a matter of fact way, neither told as a warning or even alluding to the present frenzy of #metoo, Howard’s honesty is unapologetic, with no blame attached to anyone other than himself.

Probably not quite as insightful for those unfamiliar with his work, this 600 page tome details various recording sessions – some of which are at the famous Abbey Road studios -, performances – both as an aspiring artist on his uppers and as a jobbing pianist/singer, making ends meet playing for diners in various hot spots throughout London – and his inspirations; the things that prompted and triggered those beautifully caressed and erudite songs in the first place. It also details all the ensuing rewrites, overdubs and constant bickering – mostly between his management and the litany of producers who were brought in by a label unsure of the precious signing they’d landed. Howard often frames his insights on the creative process with a synopsis on his favorite artists, showing quite a deft passion for music writing. Here’s just an extract from a flowery evocation of Bowie: ‘Setting out surreal, slightly disturbing panoramas like a screenplay writer in a moonlit park at midnight, Bowie intoned each line perfectly. He sang of times gone like a lost Atlantis, while sounding utterly NOW!’

The good times and fatuous nature of the music industry go hand-in-hand with the highlights: such as penning and recording the theme song for the William Holden and Peter Fonda movie Open Season, which started off so well with Hollywood schmoozing and the hint of a brilliant future, but soon turned to shit; the show time TV appearances that amounted to nothing, and the various meetings with iconic songwriters that ended up blindsiding or leading our author down the wrong garden path entirely.

Hardly the first artists to be chewed up and spat out by the corporate fangs of the industry, Howard’s refreshing, witty and sagacious autobiography is an often heartwarming read (especially when talking about his dear old man and dad); absolved and free of regret and bitterness. Coming out the other side, unceremoniously dumped by CBS Records at the end of this first life works volume in 1976, laying in a hospital bed looking ahead lamentably to years of recovery, the reader is left at Howard’s most low period. Without giving too much away, Howard does bounce back, turning to A&R but also continuing to record and play: even though fame will continue to elude him. An entertaining if overlong read, Incidents Crowded With Life is an interesting survey of the ‘nearly man’ of pop, an insight on both the industry and gay life in 70s swinging London.





Previous John Howard posts:








COMPILATION REVIEW: DOMINIC VALVONA



Hugh Masekela   ‘’66-‘76’   Wrasse Records,  20th April 2018

Masekela as the exile. Masekela as the trumpet maestro. Masekela as the bandleader. Masekela as the activist. Masekela as the colonial revisionist. Masekela as the angry young man. These are just some of the many faces of the South African titan of jazz and African musical fusions Hugh Masekela that can be found inside the latest essential collection of the late great polymaths’ back durable catalogue, ’66-’76. Put together especially by Masekela and his good friend, producer and collaborator on a number of projects together, Stewart Levine, just before he passed away in January of 2018, this three disc spanning collection features key tracks from many of his most iconic and experimental albums (two of which are included in their entirety). What makes this especially appealing to collectors and fans alike, is that many of these albums were never officially released in the UK and Europe before. Progressing in the chronological order they were recorded, we follow Masekela’s journey not just musically but politically across his most formative decade and his collaborative partnership with Levine.

Originally crossing paths in New York in 1961, a year after Masekela first arrived in the States after narrowly avoiding arrest in his native South Africa for breaking the apartheid system draconian ‘pass laws’, Levine, a Bronx native, met the aspiring horn player as he searched for a decent break on the American east coast jazz scene. They both enrolled that same year into the Manhattan School of Music, sharing a room together. In the years to come this hotbed, an incubator for some of the greatest jazz musicians of the last five decades, would turn out countless additions to Masekela’s changing lineup of recording sessions and live backing groups. But during those initial years, Levine and Masekela would, after graduating, split and go their separate ways, pursuing different pathways: Masekela, emulating the jazz doyens that inspired him to move across the Atlantic, and Levine, choosing production.

Years later, in ’66, and sharing not only a bond of friendship but love of Africana and American music, the pair reunited to setup a production company, the intention being to make records that combined jazz, the dancing Township sounds of South Africa and the grooves and sounds of Rhythm and Blues. This partnership, fortunately funded by seed money from some generous benefactor, quickly moved its operation to the West Coast and L.A. in the fall of that same year. Christened Chisa Records, the inaugural album, The Emancipation Of Hugh Masekela (which starts off this whole collection) featured the hybrid signature sound that the company and Masekela himself would be celebrated for. And as the title makes clear, would not shy away from black consciousness issues and struggles: not only in his native homeland, but also in his exiled home of America.





Dressed up as a smiling Abraham Lincoln on the cover, this quite withheld and effortlessly played album features the ‘working group’ of Manhattan School luminaries of musicians that backed him at club spots in the infamous Watts and on Sunset Strip: Harry Bellefonte’s (who will crop up again in this story, and have much to do with Masekela through the civil rights movement) travelling bass player at the time, John Cartwright, joins congas legend Big Black, drummer Chuck Carter and pianist Charlie Smalls, whose unique and open style of playing brought gospel and a lilt of Brazil to the set up; especially on the opening sumptuous Felicade. Over seven tracks, this live recording soaks up sauntering big band Highlife (Why Are You Blowing My Mind?), calypso via Soweto, trumpet heralding lullaby (Do Me So La So So) and yearned Sun Ra breaks bread with the Last Poets hippie jazz (Child Of The Earth).

Moving on with a rotating cast of players, only Carter on drums remaining an anchor on the next trio of albums, another New Yorker, saxophonist Al Abreu, would come into the fold – a member up until his untimely tragic death in car accident just a couple years later in ’69 – joined by Cape Town pianist Cecil Barnard and L.A. local jazz bassist Henry Franklin on the dynamite live ‘67 Alive And Well At The Whiskey. As the title suggests, lighting up the Sunset Stripe institution, the Whiskey A Go Go, Masekela’s altered troupe –changed after appearing at that year’s Monterey Pop Festival – fused a lively but controlled suite of Savoy jazz meets Motown poetic lamentable peace and love; the two featured tracks here, Son Of Ice Bag and Coincidence posing the chance of a better future.

That same group, and similar theme, appears on the next album, the phenomenally successful The Promise Of A Future. Recorded in less than an hour, the defining lulled cowbell-ringing track on that album, and as it would turn out most popular selling record of his career (more than three million copies; hitting the number one spot on the American pop charts), Grazing In The Grass helped Masekela reach a bigger audience commercially but also ended up hindering him long term; the expectation to follow up its success sending the cold footed doyen of fusion towards the insular and more experimental, refusing outright to repeat the same formula. Sampled excessively by the Hip-Hop fraternity, and so once again made popular for a new generation, the recognizable candour and busyness of this track, featuring the soft yielding licks of Bruce Langhorne, would be avoided on the darker, more direct and politically motivated barbed soul Masekela LP that followed it.





Already unique, incorporating the soul of South African music with jazz, rhythm and blues and South American grooves, The Promise Of A Better Future featured some fine iterations including the tribal Pharoah Sanders spiritual longing of These Are Seeds To Sow, and Caribbean swayed Vuca.

Whilst Grazing In The Grass was enjoying its popularity in the summer of ’68, America’s civil rights movement was hit, literally, with a double tragedy. In April Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, mortally wounded on a motel balcony in Memphis, and just two months later, Bobby Kennedy joined the fate of his brother, and was shot dead at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Riots lit up across the country and to all intents and purposes it looked like a concentrated effort was being made to off the civil rights leaders and friends, and to top it all the Vietnam War. In this incubator of inflamed passions, Masekela produced an album suffused with the stench of teargas and mace. Certainly angry, yet his statement of protest and succinctly named Masekela album was far from a blistering howl of rage. Closer to his peers own cathartic jazz albums of the same era, a sense of trying to work out just what the hell was going on, it resembles a gospel lament, a bluesy funk and most cooing experiment in despair.

Covering the escalating Vietnam protests (Mace And Grenades), the gold greedy excavating harsh realities and sorrows of the a South Africa miner, and the black majority’s uneasy struggle with the Boer colonists (Gold, Boermusiek), and famous controversial figures from the Black Panther movement (Blues For Huey), Masekela was a commercial failure on its release; spooking an audience familiar with the hit record, which evidently despite its lightness and catchy feel has origins in the townships of Masekela’s native homeland. It led to an amicable but nevertheless a split with the distributors, but allowed the Masekela and Levine partnership the freedom to continue pursuing the agenda they envisioned. It’s a good place to end the first CD on, as the next chapter opens on a move towards spiritual rejuvenation in Africa.





CD number two begins with Masekela and Levine’s 1970 ‘autonomous’ distribution deal with Motown. As part of this deal they’d also record albums with the South African singer Letta Mbulu and the Texas troupe The Jazz Crusaders (also known as The Crusaders). This would prove handy; as both went on to appear on Masekela’s own records.

The inaugural Motown album, Reconstruction, features a varied songbook of Pharoah Sanders spiritual rolling jazz (Salele Mane), languid veldt swooned and sweetly laced balladry (Woza) and the most delicious sounding of earthy soul covers from the Motown cannon (You Keep Me Hangin’ On). Featuring a heavy rotation again of players and backing singers, the album showcases Masekela’s subtleties and eclecticism; merging as he does the music and soul of two continents into a most peaceable fusion.

Keeping the political language conspicuous, if anything Reconstruction concentrates on setting the vibe, the messages echoed in the diverse nature and continuous exploration of his roots.

The next album in this collection brought Masekela together with two of his fellow compatriots, Jonas Gwangwa of the Johannesburg formed Jazz Epistles and the composer and singer Caiphus Semenya. The title says it all: Hugh Masekela And The Union Of South Africa. And the music is, as you’d expect, heavy on these influences. Yet the album features those unshakable R&B licks and southern gospel organ dabs, ala Billy Preston. This is in part down to the inclusion of the Texan soul group The Crusaders, manning the rhythm section.

It’s a beautiful communion between melting funk and elliptic rhythms of South Africa; another successful crossover; rasping yearns accompanied by the snozzled affectionate and caressing trumpet of Masekela, unmistakably South African but enriched with southern funk and soul.





Returning to his jazz roots, and once again emulating two of the artists that first inspired him, Masekela’s next record would take a pause and lean heavily towards the romantic Savoy and early Blue Note jazz of Horace Silver and Art Blakey. The Home Is Where The Music Is LP is only represented by one track. But what a track it is! With Larry Willis, another Manhattan School of Music luminary, invited to add virtuoso piano; South African jazz great Dudu Phunkwana brought in on alto saxophone (Masekela especially moved operations for this record to London, home of this South African exile at the time) and future Bill Evans band member Eddie Gomez on bass, this consummate set-up created fertile ground for a diaphanous and deep suite of romantic and thoughtful jazz meditations.

Lifted from that album, Minawa showcases the cascading flow and gestured pianist skills of Willis (a member of Masekela’s first group in ’65; featured on the live album, The Americanization Of Ooga Booga), who carries the deft track for some time before Makaya Ntshoko’s tumbling and staggered drums appear and Masekela’s lilting accentuate trumpet fluctuates over the top. Gradually it builds with motion and increases in tempo and volume until striking home; the busyness calmly retreating and pace, intensity dissipated.

His next album would be very different however. Another change in direction (of a Sort), the jazz fading for a more African feel. Bound for a ‘spiritual journey back to Africa’ after spending thirteen years in America, Masekela travelled from Guinea to Liberia and Zaire searching for inspiration and the musicians that would back him on his next musical adventure. Preempted by fate, an invitation from Nigeria’s Afrobeat progenitor and lifetime ruler of the self-invented Kalakula Republic, Fela Kuti, brought Masekela to Lagos in the spring of ’73. Though enjoying his time at Kuti’s compound kingdom, he accomplished little creatively. A tip from Kuti about a must-see act, a perfect fit for Masekela’s brand of African fusions, the Ghanaian-based Hedzoleh Soundz, did however pay off.

Joining his Nigerian guide, who brought a cortège of his wives with him, Kuti took Masekela to Accra to see for himself this adulated young outfit. Catching a midnight killer set at The Napoleon Club, he was instantly hooked. And so began a congruous collaboration between the two that would last in varied formats across the next three albums.

Introducing marked that initial dynamism; Masekela channeling what would be a month-long partnership, the South African virtuoso playing with the Soundz every single night. Kuti arranged a recording session for them both at the E.M.I. studios back in Lagos in the summer of that same year. The results of which, featured in their entirety on the second CD of this collection, combine the lilting soul of South Africa with the busy tribal percussion of West Africa: The atavistic talking drums, floating flute and relaxed but tight percussion traversing Afro funk and roots music brilliantly.

Wowing those back in the States, the group would be brought over for a special tour, beginning with a performance in Washington D.C. in January of ’74, finishing with a sold-out fortnight at the famous Troubadour club in L.A.





The final section of this triple CD set opens with Masekela’s ’74 album I Am Not Afraid. Recorded immediately after the successful stateside tour with the Soundz, the cross-pollination was once more mixed up with the inclusion of Crusaders Joe Sample and Stix Hooper: Invited in to mix their infectious Texan R&B and jazz lilt with the Soundz soulful funky tribal percussions to make, what would become, a great pop record.

Included in its entirety (the second of only two such privileges), I Am Not Afraid is considered by Levine to be one of the highlights of his time producing Masekela’s most formative albums. And he’d be right. Encapsulating all the various strands thus far, the album is both a fearless but beautifully accessible work of art. The highly popular grassland hymn, come sweeping grand minor jazzy-soul opus, Stimela, is just one highlight from what is a bright African odyssey. Setting moods perfectly, following on from a theme and location that has been used time and again by all the titans of jazz, Masekela transports the listener to mysterious nights in Tunisia, the bustling kaleidoscopic ‘market place’, and tempts us through a the meandrous jungle. The swansong, Been Such A Long Time Gone, is almost a reprise of all the previous songs; a connecting final lyrical geographical journey in the sweltering heat through history, one that takes in the sight and sounds of North and West Africa; ending up drifting down the Nile towards the Fertile Crescent.





In the same year, 1974, Masekela and Levine set up the famous musical jamboree to celebrate Ali’s titanic grudge-match with Foreman in Zaire. Part of a campaign and African revolution in directing their own affairs, with now more or less every former colony of the European powers independent, the pair were, with good intentions, drawn into a feverish Zaire renaissance. The abhorrent truths of some of these regimes, notably Zaire’s own Mobutu, would years later put paid to the general optimism, but at the time in striking a coup with hosting one of the most anticipated clashes of the century the country’s capital of Kinshasa became the hottest ticket on the global stage. The same label behind this compilation also released the fruits of Masekela and Levine’s musical stage show, the Zaire ’74 soundtrack, a while back: a collection with the emphasis on the all too forgotten African acts who performed at the three day extravaganza, previously overshadowed by the stars of America, such as James Brown, and all but erased or featured sporadically in subsequent documentaries.

Returning to the states in the fall of ’74, temporarily settling in the capital, Masekela hit the ground running, assembling his new African band; first recruiting two Hedzoleh Soundz members, percussionist Asante and bassist Stanley Todd, his drummer brother Frankie and fellow Ghanaian, shekere player Odinga ‘Guy’ Warren. Recent arrivals from Nigeria, O.J. Ekemode, Yaw Opoku and Adelja Gboyega and another Ghanaian, conga maestro (famous for his turn on The Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil) Rocky Dzidzornu boosted the already dynamic and highly talented ranks. Taking this new troupe out onto the road in ’75, wowing audiences wherever they went, Masekela was soon lined-up for another recording session. Old pal and boss of the then new label Casablanca signed them up after witnessing one of these infamous performances; making them the label’s inaugural signing. The Boy’s Doin’ It is the result. Serious but funky, given a Casablanca label sheen, yet still rustically bustling and earthy, there is some very bright serenading going on: especially on the lilting homage to Mama. Masekela, as an aside, would open for the funk progenitor George Clinton on his ‘insane’ tour: the sounds of the motherland going down well with those fans of the Funkadelic and Parliament icon.

Dressed as the captain, mocking the European explorers that stamped their name and ideals on the ‘so-called’ new world, on the cover of the last album in this three-disc spanning collection, Masekela intelligently and ironically channels the Colonial Man of the title. Musically crisscrossing the slave routes from Africa to the Americas, he takes his intrepid troupe (now assembled under the OJAH moniker) on a tropical sauntered voyage.

Hardly a raging post-colonial diatribe or resented seething tide of angry protest, the album was still seen as high risk, though Casablanca gave it their blessing. Commercially it bombed. Yet it is a fantastic album. Certainly, and quite rightly, the themes of colonization, enslavement and stripping a country’s wealth had until recent times been missing the victims and poor unfortunates experiences. A vocal activist on both sides of the Atlantic (though he believed that unlike South Africa, the black population in America would always struggle for parity whilst the population was majority white European; he had more optimism for overcoming apartheid in his native homeland, returning there in the 80s), Masekela eases through the themes on this most sophisticated, longing album.

From the salty sea foam lullaby sauntering of making it ashore on the Brazilian coast (A Song For Brazil) to liltingly cutting a passage through the interior of Africa, following in Dr. Livingstone’s footprints, weaving in the ivory trade and Conrad’s Congo (Witch Doctor), this fusion of continents is a clever, poetic purview of colonization. It is the perfect end to a great collection.





Probably by now much of the material has become available in some format or another, yet for fans and casual interested parties alike it proves a wonderful, enlightening compilation; and in the wake of Hugh Masekela’s death earlier this year, a brilliant tribute to one of the greats. Not to do a disservice to his dear friend, label co-owner, producer and partner on many projects together, this is also a welcome reminder and celebration of Stewart Levine; the guiding force behind so many of Masekela’s richest albums. 66-76 will prove to be both an essential collection of a most creative period, and a great introduction to those who are not so aware of this great legacy.

 

Dominic Valvona

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