Khan Jamal Quintet: Balafon Dance

Derek Taylor By

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With the continuing flood of current releases in creative improvised music, it’s sometimes easy to overlook artists who rarely receive or accept the opportunity to record. Mallet-maestro Khan Jamal is one such artist, and his return to the studio is reason for rejoicing. The added boon that colleagues like Moondoc and Campbell are in tow only sweetens the bargain. Jamal’s last recording, Percussion & Strings, also for CIMP half a decade ago, was a sparkling affair that reveled in the limitations of its instrumentation and in the process abolished them. The tonal palette is broader on this second studio sojourn, but a similar desire to push the strictures of compositional boundaries comes into play.

“Odean,” written in ode to fellow Philadelphian Pope, starts a bit sluggish, but Jamal’s skittering felt-tipped sticks soon liven the pace atop a brisk backdrop built by Taylor and James. Campbell takes his time sculpting a high register statement steeped in slurs and tapered stops. Close behind, Moondoc moistens his reed and takes the lead in an airy string of phrases that pays little heed to tempo and lets the melodic chips fall where they may. James boisterous solo afterwards is almost the antithesis, a tightly trained spray of rhythmic energy that sets things up for a sideways finish. The title track and “African Rhythm Tongues deliver two distinct chances to hear the leader test his improvisatory mettle on the African ancestor of his usual instrument, trading metal slats for wood. He, James and Taylor exhibit an empathic rhythmic synergy that makes life easy for the horns. The somber theme stretches smoothly into individual creations that blossom like carefully tended, lushly scented flowers. High artistic watermarks to these ears however arise in the quintet’s reimaginings of the Gershwin’s “Summertime” and old spiritual “Nobody Knows…” Moondoc is ideally suited to the melancholy emotionalism of the former and his opening solitary foray into the melody gives supreme credence to his ability to say much with only a smattering of notes. Jamal steps heavy on the sustain pedals and adds further to the romanticism quotient of the track. The latter piece suggests an uncanny resemblance to the thematic core of Coltrane’s “Spiritual” and features some positively gorgeous unison interplay that surmounts a few rough edges. The bottom line to all of this is that Jamal is back and what he’s brought with him was well worth the wait instilled by his absence.

CIMP on the web: http://www.cadencebuilding.com

Track Listing: Odean/ Just Us/ Principle/ Balafon Dance/ Summertime/ African Rhythm Tongues/ nobody no de trouble I see/ One for Hamp.

Personnel: Khan Jamal- vibes, African balafon; Jemeel Moondoc- alto saxophone; Roy Campbell- trumpet, flugelhorn; Dylan Taylor- bass; Dwight James- drums. Recorded: March 18 & 19, 2002, Rossie, NY.

Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: CIMP Records | Style: Modern Jazz


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