Khan Jamal - Human Arts Ensemble: Drumdance to the Motherland (2007)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
This is a re-release of a record that came out on the independent Philadelphia-based record label, Dogtown (slang for the Germantown section of Philadelphia where many of the city's musicians lived). It is a unique a view into an under-recognized musician and an important period in creative music.
Besides being a composer and improvising vibraphonist (among other instruments), Khan Jamal is a sincere, exciting player whose music has elements of melody, harmony and rhythm that communicate over and above any roadblocks that a cynical society (or record label) can put up.
Drumdance to the Motherland also communicates, but takes a very direct approach. In a sense, this is very much a psychedelic '60s recording, made to be heard as a record, even though it's from a 1972 performance in Philadelphia. Yes, there is great improvising from all members of the band, especially from Jamal and guitarist Monette Sudler (also under-recognized, but still very much active), but this live gig was also "played by sound engineer Mario Falana, whose live, real-time 'treatment' of the music is a major contribution to the total sound and impression of the album.
The opening sound of "Cosmic Echoes (the first track) is very striking, Falana selectively drenching members of the band in reverb. Some tracks use much less of this extreme treatment, allowing details like Sudler's extended guitar solo on "Inner Peace to speak on their own terms. "Breath of Life also features a great balance of the aforementioned reverb and some truly lovely playing by Jamal and Sudler.
The packaging of the CD is very attractive and the excellent liner notes by Ed Hazell come together to bring some positive, respectful attention to Jamal and the Philadelphia music scene during a particularly fruitful era.
Track Listing: Cosmic Echoes; Drum Dance; Inner Peace; Breath of Life.
Personnel: Khan Jamal: vibraphone, marimba, clarinet; Alex Ellison: drums, percussion; Dwight James: drums, glockenspiel, clarinet; Billy Mills: fender bass, double-bass; Monnette Sudler: guitar, percussion.
Record Label: Eremite Records
Style: Modern Jazz