A follow-up from my post of two weeks ago, where I related my findings upon tracking down the individual members of Philadelphia's soul-free-funk-jazz combo Sounds of Liberation, whose 1972 LP is being reissued on CD next week by Porter. My results were surprising and varied. Last time I devoted much space to Byard Lancaster's music. This time around I have some additional work by vibraphonist Khan Jamal and drummer Dwight James.
Before moving on, a quick rundown of the remaining members. Bassist Billy Mills never recorded a date under his own name to my knowledge, but he does appear on some of Khan Jamal's work. Same goes for conga man Rashid Salim, a member of Sun Ra's Arkestra on releases like the Nuits de la Fondation Maeght volumes (Shandar, 1971). Percussionist Omar Hill now makes Afro-cuban-ethno-lite-fusion which should be avoided at all costs. Monette Sudler is an excellent guitarist who has also played with Jamal, in addition to being a member of Sunny Murray's all-star Untouchable Factor group; however, her solo work tends too much toward the smooth side for me and thus doesn't really belong here in a post about free creative music.
What can one say about Khan Jamal? No two albums sound alike. Drum Dance to the Motherland (Dogtown, 1972) has had a bit of a renaissance after Eremite reissued it in 2006. It's truly bizarre, a live psychedelic-tinged improv manipulated by sound engineer Mario Falana in real time. Mostly this adds up to tons and tons of reverb enhancing Jamal's splintering vibes and glockenspiels; he also doubles with Dwight James on clarinet for some squiggly solos. The electric guitar (Sudler) and bass (Mills) are way up in front, noodling aimlessly while a background of chiming, clattering, shaking percussion (D. James and Alex Ellison) drift in and out of the mix. Oddly enough, it sounds really good, all the manipulation giving the proceedings a quasi-dubby feel, very planetary, very "sci-fi". For a completely different sound, try Jamal's Give the Vibes Some, a 1974 trio set with Hassan Rashid (drums), Clint Jackson III (trumpet on one track), and Jamal playing vibes and marimba. It has a great Jackie McLean-esque chamber aesthetic with intense rhythmic interplay. The album came out on Jef Gilson's Palm imprint, a French label that also featured the work of some great Philly musicians throughout the 1970s.
Dwight James seems to have recorded only one album as a leader, 1983's Inner Heat. It's not on CD but you can still buy the LP from Cadence for pretty cheap, about $11. James has an ear for uptempo, intricate rhythms and structures his compositions around them; any melody follows instinctively from the rhythms, whether they be jazz, latin, african, or completely abstract. It's a really forward-thinking album and it's sad James didn't record more, but as he claims on the back sleeve, "I haven't made hardly no money for the past two years, but I have been happy." The group on Inner Heat had the good fortune to be able to practice James' compositions for a solid six months, making their playing as tight as possible; cerebral, but always soulful. The "Ja Ja" cut was co-written with Khan Jamal and additionally features Byard Lancaster (alto s.), Middie Middleton (tenor s.), Clarence Bradley (trumpet), and Howard Cooper (b.) -- a strictly Philly affair. (Interestingly, this track was recorded by James with a broken toe so swollen his shoe wouldn't come off--tough for a guy who likes his kick drum).Khan Jamal - Cosmic Echoes (Drum Dance)
Khan Jamal - Pure Energy (Give the Vibes Some)
Dwight James - Ja Ja (Inner Heat)*
*(Pretty sure I didn't rip this correctly -- the equalizer settings are off the map -- but it's the best I could do with my crummy setup.)
There's some video of Khan Jamal here: