August 4, 2016

Mtume Umoja Ensemble - Alkebu-lan: Land Of The Blacks (1971)

James Mtume was a percussionist/multi-instrumentalist who worked with Miles Davis during the 70s. He later went on to form a popular synth funk band in the 80s, simply titled Mtume. He also found time to lead to recording sessions of his own. The second released session is Rebirth Cycle from 1977 (I posted this a few months ago); a cool album, but very typical 70s post-bop/avant-garde jazz. Alkebulan, its predecessor, is the more dynamic and inspirational album. This was released on Strata-East, an underground jazz label which hosted Music Inc (Charles Tolliver and company), Pharoah Sanders, Larry Ridley, Cliff Jordan, and even Gil Scott-Heron. The crusty recording quality is similar to the underground live sessions Sun Ra would hold, making this music feel as authentic as possible. Alkebulan is a massive session, but large, even-tempered, and carefully layered sprawls move by easily and sink in thoroughly--sort of like Daydream Nation in that regard. It's easy to tell that Pharoah Sanders and Mtume were big influences on each other. The lulling, West-African inspired bass/percussion rhythms and ride cymbal expressions will be all too familiar if you already enjoy Pharoah's work. Gary Bartz, one of the most prolific saxophonists of the 70s and also a frequent Miles Davis sideman, takes the reins as lead horn player and lays down the law. He is a powerful musician but is hardly as flamboyant as his contemporaries. Strata-East's flagship pianist and Music Inc member, Stanley Cowell, controls these free jazz forays with snake-charmeresque wisdeom; giving plenty of nods out to Andrew Hill and McCoy Tyner (especially on the dedication track, Saud). Alkebulan is a very beautiful album and one of the greatest of its genre and time. Epic, no doubt, but certainly less overbearing than many related albums. I bet there are more than a few people who consider this album a life-changing experience.