Strut present the first ever compilation of Balka Sound, bringing together their influential 1980s recordings. Hailing from Congo-Brazzaville and led by revered vocalist and ngonfi player, Nkibi “Lusialala” Albert, Balka Sound created their own unique musical world, re imagining traditional Congolese Balka rhythms with electric guitars, electric bass and drums, alongside the traditional 5-string ngonfi.
Strut present the first box set release to bring together the 1970s recordings of The Pyramids, led by Idris Ackamoor. As students at Antioch College, Ohio, alto saxophonist Idris Ackamoor, flautist Margaux Simmons and bass player Kimathi Asante created three lasting monuments in sound – Lalibela, King of Kings, and Birth / Speed / Merging, a trio of albums produced without any label backing or distribution between 1972 and 1976. Their music is unique among the varied canon of avant-garde and experimental music of 1970s America: high intensity African-styled percussion topped with songs, chants, and horns, laced with African instruments and arranged into long, flowing suites that surge and roll.
Flock is a brand new collaboration between five leading musicians from London’s open-minded jazz and experimental scenes: Bex Burch (Vula Viel), Sarathy Korwar, Dan “Danalogue” Leavers (Soccer96, The Comet Is Coming), Al MacSween (Maisha) and Tamar Osborn (Collocutor).
Strut continue their deep dive into the archives of Black Fire Records with a new reissue of Oneness Of Juju’s Bush Brothers & Space Rangers, showcasing the band at the peak of their powers in 1977. Primarily recorded at Arrest Studios in Washington DC, the album ispacked with landmark Oneness tracks including ‘Be About TheFuture’ (“possibly the first ecology-themed song that I know of”) the George Clinton-influenced ‘Plastic’, an acoustic alternative version of ‘African Rhythms’ and strong covers of Caiphus Semenya’s ‘West Wind’ and Bobby Womack’s ‘Breezin”. Plunky continues, “The album is composed of several different sessions featuring different personnel and only first came out as an album in its own right when Black Fire MD Jimmy Gray started working with P-Vine Records in Japan during the ’90s. For me, it’s one of the hottest periods for the band.”
Strut presents the first compilation of legendary Afghan Ghazal singer Dr. Mohammad Sadiq Fitrat a.k.a. Nashenas, recorded at the Radio Afghanistan Studios and later released on singles by the Royal label in Iran. Nashenas first made his move towards music aged 16 in 1951 when he approached Afghanistan’s national radio station, Radio Kabul, with an idea for a broadcast and, impressed with his language skills, they offered him a permanent job. “I was in close contact with some of the big names in Afghan music like Jalil Zaland,” Nashenas explains. “My father had a gramophone and we listened to other singers like Ustad Qasim Khan and Kundan Lal Saigal.” After unsuccessful initial forays into singing sessions for the station, he honed his skills as a writer, singer and musician, playing the harmonium. Inspired by a movie he had seen at the cinema, Nashenas wrote a new poem and sang on air again after the evening news, using the name ‘Nashenas’ (meaning ‘unknown’) for the first time. Following a wave of positive feedback from the public, he was given a new weekend slot and built his reputation through film song interpretations, famous poems set to music and his own compositions sung in Dari and Pashto. Nashenas would witness turbulent times as Afghanistan found itself caught up in the Cold War and the early ‘90s civil war until it became too dangerous to stay in the country. Through a friend in the U.N., he was able to seek asylum for himself and his family and take up residence in London, continuing to work as a musician and giving concerts globally. Most of Nashenas’ recordings during this period were only made for broadcast, later surfacing on singles through the Royal label in Iran. Life Is A Heavy Burden is compiled from these singles by Chris Menist and Mads Jensen. All tracks are remastered by The Carvery and both formats feature new liner notes including an interview with Nashenas. The album is part of the new United Sounds of Asia series curated by Chris Menist and Maft Sai of Paradise Bangkok.
Strut return to the rich archives of Black Fire Records for the ”Drum Message” album by Ghanaian master percussionist Okyerema Asante from 1977. Featuring members of Oneness Of Juju and Brian Jackson on piano.
Strut presents the first full international release for another lost classic from the Black Fire Records archives, ‘Southern Energy’, the only album recorded by R’n’B and jazz collective Southern Energy Ensemble in 1977.
Strut present the definitive edition of Sun Ra’s classic ‘Lanquidity’ album from 1978 with brand new 4LP box set and 2CD editions, featuring the widely distributed version of the album alongside alternative mixes by Bob Blank originally released in limited quantities for a 1978 Arkestra gig at Georgia Tech. Recorded overnight at Bob Bank’s Blank Tapes on 17th July 1978 after the Arkestra had appeared on Saturday Night Live, the album is unique in the Ra catalogue. “Most critics felt that it was more of a fusion-inspired record,” explains Michael Ray. “As the name suggests, the album is liquid and languid.” Bob Blank continues, “Musically, it was very ad hoc and freeform. There were horn charts but most tracks came out of improvised jams. Sun Ra just did his thing.” Comprising five effortlessly fluid pieces, the album eases in with Lanquidity. Danny Ray Thompson remembers, “This was one of Sun Ra’s on-the-spot compositions. It is almost like an Ancient Egyptian Stargazing Ceremony, mapping out the stars and the planets.” Where Pathways Meet is “Sun Ra’s funky version of an Egyptian march. Pharaoh is sending his troops off to fight and this is his pep-talk!” continues Thompson. “The music seems to take different pathways but still converges.” The loping groove of That’s How I Feel, features the reflective trumpet lines of Eddie Gale with solos by John Gilmore and Marshall Allen: “Marshall comes in with that snake charming oboe.” Says Thompson. The funky Twin Stars Of Thence weaves around Richard Williams celebrated elastic bassline while the haunting closer, There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of), is pure “space music.” The poet Mama Nzinga described it as ‘The essence of light. Spirit takes a ride inside the deep dark space of just being.”
Strut continue their in-depth archive reissues from the Black Fire label with a definitive edition of JuJu’s ‘Live At 131 Prince Street’, recorded in 1973 at Ornette Coleman’s gallery in New York. After forming in San Francisco while working on the Marvin X theatre piece ‘The Resurrection of the Dead’, JuJu began to hone their uncompromising fusion of Afro-Latin rhythms with free and spiritual jazz before signing to Strata-East for the ‘A Message From Mozambique’ album in 1972.
Lancaster had initially cut his musical teeth with the avant-garde on New York’s Lower East Side in the 1960s and in Paris during the ‘70s but, throughout his career, his path was built around community engagement, positivity and “the Philly jazz sound, Germantown style.” He became an ambassador for the music of the City Of Brotherly Love, starting his own Dogtown label, helping launch the Philly Jazz imprint and campaigning tirelessly to improve the circumstances of the city’s street musicians. Lancaster’s sessions for Black Fire were planned following a gig at Caverns Jazz Club in Washington DC. “Jimmy Gray of Black Fire and I originally met during the ‘riotous blisters’ of the late Sixties there,” explained Lancaster. “We became the best of friends.” Backed by a band of Philly musicians including percussionist Keno Speller and Baba Robert Crowder (drummer for Olatunji and Art Blakey), the album also featured the Drummers From Ibadan led by Tunde Kuboye, another influential figure dedicated to community jazz with whom Lancaster had bonded while teaching in Lagos. The result was a free-flowing set of spirituality and positivity, built around full band groove workouts, solo pieces and heavy African roots. “We had big fun documenting this music,” remembered Lancaster. The message of the album remains as relevant today as ever, “I dedicate this album to all African Americans in the USA. To the youth, I ask ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?’”
Strut present the brand new album from Alostmen, led by Stevo Atambire, a band at the forefront of kologo music in Ghana. Formed by Stevo and Wanlov The Kubolor (Fok’n Bois) at the suggestion of co-producer Percy Yip Tong, Alostmen’s music is based around the Frafra traditions of the kologo, a stringed lute and uses purely traditional instrumentation in entirely new ways. “I always like to do something “out” withmy instrument, I like to force it to work,” explains Stevo. “I’m a yout’man and into different kinds of music: commercial, rap music, reggae, Malian sounds. I add all of it to the band’s sound in different ways.” Wanlov continues, “The kologo is traditionally played a certain way but Stevo will play it at the shortest end of bridge and accentuate, almost Hendrix-style! He plays with a pedal sometimes and can keep it an octave down with a bass sound. He has evolved the instrument in his own way.”
The planets align this October as the mighty Sun Ra Arkestra, under the direction of the maestro Marshall Allen, release their first studio album in over twenty years, ‘Swirling’. Recorded at Rittenhouse Soundworks in Philadelphia, the new recording represents the continuation of a heartfelt rebirth of the Arkestra under Allen’s guidance since Sun Ra left the planet in 1993, gaining new generations of followers from their regular touring across the globe. With a big band line-up featuring long-standing Arkestra members including Danny Ray Thompson (RIP), Michael Ray, Vincent Chancey, Knoel Scott, Cecil Brooks, Atakatune (RIP), Elson Nascimento and Tyler Mitchell, the album is a full-blooded celebration of Sun Ra’s legacy. Tracks include brand new arrangements of Arkestra staples ‘Angels And Demons At Play’, ‘Satellites Are Spinning’, ‘Door Of The Cosmos’ and ‘Rocket No. 9’ alongside lesser known gems; the rousing blues ‘Darkness’ is recorded here for the first time, resurrected from the Ra archives by Marshall Allen. Other highlights include an epic version of ‘Seductive Fantasy’ (first recorded on Ra’s ‘On Jupiter’ LP in 1979), the freeform sonic blast of ‘Infinity / I’ll Wait For You’ and a first ever recording of the Marshall Allen swing composition, ‘Swirling’. “We truly hope that this recording brings much joy to a planet which is so deeply in need of a spirit sound and vibration,” states saxophonist Knoel Scott. “We hope it contributes to a change in the ominous direction of man’s journey through the cosmos.” “This new release is the Arkestra’s love offering to the world,” concludes Marshall Allen. “Beta music for a better world.”
Black Fire was an influential spiritual jazz and conscious soul label that is now the subject of a first ever compilation. It has been put together by Strut and covers the years 1975 to 1993, showcasing a rich mix of jazz, deep African polyrhythms and empowering lyrics across plenty of classics and rarities. The highlights are plentiful and the comp also comes with extended sleeve notes around the black-owned label’s rich history, as well as a reprint of one of the original Black Fire magazines published by founder Jimmy Gray. This is a real piece of black music history.
Influential jazz collective Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids return with an epic new opus, ‘Shaman!’, featuring a fresh line-up including original 1970s Pyramids member Dr. Margaux Simmons on flute, Bobby Cobb on guitar, long-term associate Sandra Poindexter on violin, Ruben Ramos on bass, Gioele Pagliaccia on drums and Jack Yglesias on percussion. The band transitions from the political and social commentaries of 2018’s acclaimed ‘An Angel Fell’ into more introspective themes. “I wanted to use this album to touch on some of the issues that we all f ace as individuals in the inner space of our souls and our conscience,” explains Ackamoor. “The album unfolds over four Acts with personal musical statements about love and loss, mort ality, the afterlife, family and salvation.” Evolving around Ackamoor’s intricate compositions, the album takes us effortlessly across moods and emotions through a series of expansive, extended pieces. Starting with ritual, soul-searching, and masculine vulnerability on the title track, the band explores timeless existence on ‘Eternity’ and mourns the sudden loss of loved ones in the prescient ‘When Will I See You Again?’, a track which gains new relevance amidst the current COVID-19 crisis. Ackamoor pays tribute to his mentor Cecil Taylor on the angular ‘Theme For Cecil’ and renders homage to the ancestors on ‘Salvation’ and ‘The Last Slave Ship’, recalling the last ship to bring slaves to the US from Africa, the Clotilda. The superb ‘Virgin’ is an anthem of forgiveness, new beginnings and self-healing.
Strut kick off a brand new deal with the seminal independent black jazz and soul label Black Fire in May with ‘African Rhythms 1970-1982’, a comprehensive 2CD / 3LP compilation of Oneness Of Juju, led by Plunky J. Branch. Tracing their career from the band’s earliest work in 1970 with South African exiled jazzman Ndikho Xaba in San Francisco, the compilation covers the band’s journey to New York’s loft jazz scene, forming Juju and releasing two landmark albums of hard-hitting percussive jazz on Strata-East. “I saw myself as a cultural warrior,” explains Plunky. “We studied about Africa and tried to infuse our music with an African spirit.” Moving back to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia during the mid-’70s, Plunky drew in a superb new group of musicians and vocalists and created the band’s new incarnation, Oneness Of Juju, retaining the African influence but fusing his sound with funk and R’n’B on the classic ‘African Rhythms’ album. “We realised that, if we put a backbeat to the Afro-Cuban rhythms, people in Richmond and Washington D.C. could be drawn into it; it didn’t change anything about our message.” The change would lead to a series of enduring soul-jazz classics on Jimmy Gray’s Black Fire label, including ‘River Luv Rite’, ‘Plastic’ and ‘Don’t Give Up’ and their biggest crossover international hit, ‘Every Way But Loose’ in 1982, later famously remixed by Larry Levan. The band received renewed interest in their music during the mid-’80s as Washington D.C.’s go-go innovators cited the band as a major influence and rare groove DJs revived their albums for London dancefloors.
Strut and Art Yard present another exclusive from the vast catalogue of cosmic jazz pioneer Sun Ra: a previously unreleased radio session most likely recorded at the WXPN FM radio studios in Philadelphia, 1974-5. This newly discovered session features a new version of Ra’s earlier ‘Island In The Sun’, a romping, raucous rendition of ‘Unmask The Batman’ and the first studio recording of ‘I’ll Wait For You’ There is no bass player on the sessions and Ra’s left hand beats out a rhythmic bass pattern on the piano. All tracks are remastered directly from the original tapes. The album package features a newly commissioned painting by legendary Bristol urban artist Guy Denning and new sleeve notes by Paul Griffiths. Recently discovered in the Sun Ra archive, the recording forms part of a series of sessions that Ra and the Arkestra recorded for WXPN-FM between 1974 and 1980.
Thanks to some inspired detective work by Art Yard Records, an intimate trio performance by Sun Ra in Rome in 1977, ‘In Some Far Place’, is receiving its first release. Recorded from the sound desk and mastered from original reels, the album features Sun Ra on piano and Moog, drummer Luqman Ali and occasional Arkestra vocalist Thomas Thaddeus in fine form, exploring Ra staples and revisiting some of the traditional jazz pieces from his early Chicago days. Tracks include the reflective ‘Trying To Put The Blame On Me,’ ‘Spontaneous Simplicity’ and the first Sun Ra version of ‘I Cover The Waterfront’ to ever be officially released. New sleeve notes come courtesy of the Arkestra’s Knoel Scott with cover design by Lewis Heriz.
Those turned on by Spiritual Jazz should already be aware of West Coast combo Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids. They’ve been playing and recording together since the 1970s, though We Be All Africans is only their sixth full-length outing. Predictably, it’s a fine set, effortlessly fusing their spiritual roots with elements of jazz-funk, soul and, of course, Afro-jazz. Highlights are plentiful, from the swinging, Tony Allen style rhythms, swirling vocals and punchy horns of “Rhapsody In Berlin”, and the clarinet-sporting sweetness of the brilliantly percussive “Epiphany”, to the stretched-out drum workout “Traponga”, which sounds like the work of three drummers and a whole troupe of percussionists.
This post is about the followers of my blog and the most successful posts, the releases that gathered the most likes and clicks in 2013 from my visitors.
Strut present ‘Metal Dance’, a new compilation from one of the UK’s most respected DJ / producers, the man behind Playgroup and original founder of the legendary label Output Recordings, Trevor Jackson. Echoing elements of his renowned DJ Kicks mix from 2003, Jackson draws here on specials that have peppered his DJ sets for almost two decades. ‘Metal Dance’ mines deep and hones in on the more underground and danceable side of industrial, post-punk and EBM (Electronic Body Music), a phrase coined by Ralf Hütter of Kraftwerk but honed by later bands like DAF and Front 242 as socialist realist aesthetics were dragged onto the dancefloor during the mid-’80s. Jackson cherry-picks classics and rarities from this era, including a new edit of Nitzer Ebb favourite ‘Control I’m Here’ (sampled on Quartz’ rave classic ‘Meltdown’), the cold dance of Analysis’ ‘Surface Tension’, Neon’s dark ‘Voices’, re-interpreting a Master C&J riff from the early days of Chicago house, and hard-hitting dubs from Pete Shelley, Alien Sex Fiend and more. Herein lie sounds that have heavily influenced today’s crop of artists – from LCD Soundsystem and The Knife to Factory Floor and Hot Chip. Elsewhere on the album, Jackson brings in unexpected gems – a track from cult John Carpenter film ‘Escape From New York’ re-edited by Klein & MBO’s Mario Boncaldo, a lost album track by avant garde Spanish artist Diseno Corbusier and a UK promo-only mix of Yello’s ‘You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess’.