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Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell

Chris May By

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In 2016, California-based tenor saxophonist Idris Ackamoor relaunched his 1970s spiritual-jazz band, The Pyramids, and released a corking new album, We Be All Africans (Strut Records). In spring 2018, he has released another outstanding disc with another almost entirely new line-up. The only musician who is held over from We Be All Africans is violinist Sandra Poindexter, who has replaced Ackamoor's 1970s frontline foil, flautist Margo Simmons. Poindexter's gritty playing, which harks back to the pioneering work of Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians violinist Leroy Jenkins, makes for a perfect fit with Ackamoor's broken-notes and vocalisations.

If anything, An Angel Fell is even better than its predecessor. Ackamoor's saxophone style is all the things you love about Pharoah Sanders while also being recognisably his own. His compositions range from exotica-tinged ballads to gutsy free-jazz work-outs. The groove never lets up, and takes in hip hop, rock and, on one track, reggae. Succinct vocals are used on half the tracks and the lyrics are eloquent and relevant (about the environment, equal rights and the universal need for love). The most moving track, as it happens, uses no lyrics. On "Soliloquy For Michael Brown," named after the young African American shot dead by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, Ackamoor's saxophone essays a heart-wrenching lament which needs no words to communicate its message. The album was recorded in London, and the production, by Michael Catto, drummer with and producer of Britain's Sun Ra, Ethio-Jazz and dub-focused band The Heliocentrics, is straightforward and unobtrusive.

All the above, by the by, throws into relief the shortcomings of Kamasi Washington's much lauded spiritual-jazz recording The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015). A good but fatally flawed album, The Epic could have been a great one. Its problems were self-production and self-indulgence. The 3xCD format was wearisomely and ineffectually protracted. The warbling heavenly-choir was overemployed. So too were the saccharine string-arrangements. The mix was smothered rather than enhanced by the size of the vocal and instrumental ensembles. Washington addressed the question of brevity on his self-produced follow-up, the EP Harmony Of Difference (Young Turks, 2017), but not, unfortunately, the other issues. Maybe next time.

The bottom line is that An Angel Fell delivers oodles more magic than The Epic, with just six musicians, the judicious use of vocals, which are actually saying something, and a playing time of just over an hour. In this case, less is most definitely more.

Track Listing: Tinoge; An Angel Fell; Land Of Ra; Papyrus; Soliloquy For Michael Brown; Message To My People; Warrior Dance; Sunset.

Personnel: Idris Ackamoor: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, keytar, lead vocals; Sandra Poindexter: violin, lead vocals; David Molina: guitar, effect pedals, vocals; Skyler Stover: double bass, vocals; Bradie Speller: congas, handsonic, vocals; Johann Polzer: drums.

Title: An Angel Fell | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Strut Records

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