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Thursday, 31 May 2018

Kamaal Williams "The Return" 2018 UK Jazz Fusion,Jazz Funk


Kamaal Williams  "The Return" 2018 UK Jazz Fusion,Jazz Funk  

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Although The Return is Kamaal Williams (AKA Henry Wu)’s debut album, he’s actually had some solid experience in the contemporary jazz scene. He previously played along with Yussef Dayes in their group Yussef Kamal, and released the record Black Focus back in 2016. Now in 2018, Williams is back with fresh material. To listeners, Williams’ sound as a solo artist is still reminiscent of Yussef Kamal, but also possesses elements that are entirely his own. The Return has a foundation of jazz-funk themes, layered with a “Londoner’s twist” of hip-hop beats that are iconic of the city’s southern region. The record strikes a balance between the freedom of improvisation, but also contains intricacies that feel deeply calculated and planned. Williams has successfully created a record that listeners can spend time with and enjoy picking apart. The Return is currently available on red vinyl…..~


The Return is a natural evolution from the Yussef Kamaal project, mining the influence of visionary jazz but blended with all kinds of texture, sounds and signals from the over-saturated London streets. 
Notable tracks for old and new listeners are ‘Salaam’, ‘Situations’, 'Medina’, 'LDN Shuffle’ which features Mansur Brown (of Mansur’s Message) and for those die hard Yussef Kamaal fans - they should hear the interpolated roots of 'Strings of Light’ in the title track 'The Return’. And that signature Wu Funk can be heard on 'Broken Theme’, and 'High Roller’. 
The Return will be the debut album released on Wu’s new label Black Focus Records…..~


Walk the streets of South London and you might catch Kamaal Williams cruising the concrete in a customized Chevy Impala. His swaggering brand of cool-hand jazz makes for potent lowrider fuel—the cosmic keys and snappy drums could tempt even Roy Ayers to ride shotgun. This is music that connects Camberwell to Cali, not just in its affinity for the pioneering cats of classic West Coast sounds but its spiritual kinship to Kamasi Washington, Ryan Porter, Terrace Martin, Thundercat, and other latter-day LA artists. Spanning both sides of the Atlantic, this kaleidoscopic vision of jazz comes cut with a motley set of groovy throwback influences. 

Williams (who also produces soulful house as Henry Wu) first laid out his smooth remit alongside drummer Yussef Dayes in the duo Yussef Kamaal. The pair’s still-great 2016 album Black Focus seamlessly blended jazz, funk, boogie, Afrobeat, and hip-hop in a way that captured the culturally diverse districts of the English capital. In doing so, Yussef Kamaal positioned themselves alongside the likes of Shabaka Hutchings, Zara McFarlane, and the Ezra Collective as old-school-minded Londoners who made music that gloriously distilled the city’s plurality. Against the acidic backdrop of Brexit-era Britain, where the struggles of immigrants and institutional hostility toward people of color have been so brutally laid out by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and Windrush scandal, Yussef Kamaal’s music felt like a small antidote to the malignancy stirring in the UK’s soul. 
Yet the group’s excellence manifested just once. They split last year, the break so sudden that Williams and Dayes didn’t even fulfill all their gigging commitments as a duo. And now we have The Return, which could easily be the sequel to Black Focus—at least, that seems to be Williams’ pitch. The album artwork and fonts match. He even named his label Black Focus! Most importantly, the music maintains the same softly bumpin’ style, even without Dayes by his side.
As soon as Williams’ celestial keys begin to percolate and swirl on the opening “Salaam,” it’s clear that little has changed. The track’s silky chords and sluggish grooves satisfy like a cold beer in the summertime, with the 1970s R&B flavor highlighting Williams’ eagerness to venture a couple degrees further away from jazz than he did on Black Focus. Hearing the young virtuoso contort classic genres to his will is thrilling. And while Dayes’ rasping drumming—so key to Black Focus’ hippest jams, like “Lowrider” and “Joint 17”—is missed, newly recruited percussionist MckNasty offers his own urbane rhythms. The ethos of “Catch the Loop” is right there in the title: The rubbery bassline and crisp drums, evoking the spirit of the funky practitioner Dr. Lonnie Smith, are just begging rap producers to come snatch a sample. 
Much of The Return highlights Williams as a master arranger. On “Broken Theme,” the off-kilter drums and keys sound like they’ve been beamed in from two completely different planets, yet every few seconds, they snap into line, bringing balance to the wild freak-out. The calming “Medina,” meanwhile, is the song most rooted in the tradition of basement jazz clubs. The serene mood is as timeless as whiskey and bitters, and Williams caresses the keys like he has all the time in the universe. 
Should you be looking for flaws, there are a couple of strange decisions. “Rhythm Commission” could have been an album highlight had it been given room to breathe, but the two-and-a-half minute running time is barely enough to let the funk sink in. “The Return” swoons with string-led orchestration reminiscent of Jon Brion’s arrangements on Kanye West’s Late Registration, but at just 66 seconds long, the track begs to be developed into a full-bodied number. There was room for this album to grow. 
Williams’ ambition appears to have been to present himself as belonging to the same continuum as Yussef Kamaal while establishing himself as a solo artist. Job done. Yet The Return does even more. It’s a sweet snapshot of London 2018—an encapsulation of a newly brewing jazz community, uniting numerous cultural strands that make up the city. When the scene needed him most, Kamaal Williams returned to show the way……..by Dean Van Nguyen…pitchfork…~


Cross-pollination of jazz and hip hop has spread fast during the 2010s. In-the-moment creativity and giving-the-drummer-some are powerful synergies. In the US, key players include Kamasi Washington, Thundercat and Christian Scott. In Britain, they include the extended family of musicians associated with reed player Shabaka Hutchings and the Brownswood Recordings label. Some of the British players are featured on the previously reviewed We Out Here (Brownswood, 2018), which is a great snapshot of the scene as it exists in London in spring 2018. 
Among Brownswood’s alumni are keyboard player Kamaal Williams (aka Henry Wu) and drummer Yussef Dayes. As Yussef Kamaal, the pair debuted with Black Focus (Brownswood, 2016), a thrilling blend of hip hop-derived British musics and the jazz-funk legacies of Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Lonnie Liston Smith and Roy Ayers. In 2017, the duo were booked to perform at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, but at the last moment US homeland security refused to give visas to members of the party. Yussef Kamaal broke up shortly after this. 
Happily, Williams and Dayes both remain active, albeit separately. Dayes is prominently featured on Toshio Matsuura Group’s previously reviewed Loveplaydance: 8 Scenes From The Floor (Brownswood, 2018) and on Tenderlonious’s soon-to-be-released The Shakedown (22a). Williams has resurfaced with the appropriately titled The Return on his fledgling Black Focus label, made with the ferocious rhythm section of drummer MckNasty and bassist Pete Martin. The fourth member of the group is engineer Richard Samuels, whose studio expertise is crucial to the music. Brownswood regular, guitarist Mansur Brown, guests on “LDN Shuffle,” tearing off a solo which gives more than a nod to John McLaughlin’s work with Mahavishnu Orchestra. 
The Return takes up where Black Focus left off, harnessing classic jazz-funk and fusion with hip hop and its British offspring grime, broken beat and drum & bass. Beats are key, and so are great melodies and trippy ambiances. It is jazz, Jim, but only as we have recently got to know it, and it all hangs together beautifully…..By CHRIS MAY ….~


Kamaal Williams’ debut full-length as a bandleader bridges two traditions: jazz fusion and UK dance music. Much like the London pianist’s debut album, Black Focus (in the drums-and-keys duo Yussef Kamaal), The Return is rooted in the harmonic intricacies of predecessors like Herbie Hancock and Lonnie Liston Smith. But its inventive rhythms—particularly on the hard-charging “Catch the Loop” and the snapping, deep-in-the-pocket “Broken Theme”—come straight from London’s broken-beat scene, which soulfully exploded drum 'n’ bass in the late '90s. By turns lyrical (“Salaam”), elegiac (“The Return”), and driving (“LDN Shuffle”), it’s a heady brew…..~


He cites Jamiroquai as an early influence, though more from a conceptual point of view than a purely aesthetic one. “Their music is really influenced by Roy Ayers and Donald Byrd — it’s all kind of a rip off of those kind of grooves, but with more of a U.K. vibe,” he explains. “They really bridged the gap between commercial and soulful music. It’s not about being an intellectual or doing anything too fancy; it’s just about being true to the sound of our generation.” 
For Williams, that sound is less optimistic than the nu-funk grooves of his ’90s inspirations — but still almost as danceable. He first drew international attention as one half of Yussef Kamaal, the jazz-and-more duo whose 2016 Brownswood release Black Focus is very much rooted in the contemporary jazz’s fascination with the synthy ’70s, but with a lot more U.K. dance music thrown in the mix. The album placed Williams and his then-creative partner Yussef Dawes at the center of London’s explosive improvised music scene, whose ties to club culture set it apart from those stateside — even as it too remains attached to the term “jazz.” 
But the pair split suddenly in 2017 just before their biggest show to that point, and now Williams is working with his own band to capture his hometown on wax. “It’s a group of born and bred Londoners putting their emotions together to create something that will last for the duration of the earth,” he says of The Return. “The pace of London is very fast. Everything’s two inches in front of you — there’s no horizon in London, it’s just buildings and capitalism. We gotta survive out here, and this is our way of expressing that.” 
Williams grew up in London’s then-ungentrified Peckham neighborhood, the child of a Taiwanese mother and a British father. He’s still very close with his mother, the source of his artist name Henry Wu (Wu is her family name), and embraced learning some Mandarin as well as Chinese calligraphy while growing up. For Williams, that interest — as well as his parents’ work in design — translated into drawing graffiti around London (he declines to share his graffiti tag, saying that he was fairly prolific: “I wouldn’t want to incriminate myself”) and eventually, learning Arabic. Those influences combined can be seen in the cover of The Return, which features a black and white photo of Williams cropped into an Arabic character drawn by a Chinese/Muslim calligrapher. Williams himself is Muslim, and Kamaal is the name he chose for himself after converting seven years ago. 
Musically, Williams names a few turning points: one was garage/grime duo Oxide and Neutrino, whose 2001 album Execute was the first one he remembers “going to Tesco and buying for £9.99.” “They’re both from South London, so it was what we were listening to at school,” he explains now. He was already playing percussion in the school band, and the love affair with hip-hop in both its American and British forms that began with Execute led him toward producing. Another was his father introducing him to jazz via classics by Miles Davis and John Coltrane, along with some bluesier jams by Santana. By the time he’d reached college, where he studied music and got into playing keyboards as well as drums, Williams was a bonafide crate-digger — something he says is an evergreen source of inspiration. “Those records from the ’60s and ’70s sound fresh even today,” he says now. “I found one the other day by Eddie Henderson called Mahal, and it blew my mind — it’s from 1978, and it sounds fresher than anything I’ve heard today. The fact that we can go back and find those records that were before our time just means there’s a new lifespan on this music.”
Playing funk around London, Williams landed in the band of then-just signed dubstep singer Katy B, where he remained for two years. Gigging for other artists, though, eventually induced a crisis of faith that caused him to almost quit music in 2012. It was only with the promise of a new, artist-run label — 22a, which came together in 2013 — that Williams started creating again, focusing on producing broken-beat and house tracks. Critical acclaim (and Boiler Room sets followed as he integrated live music into his already jazz-inflected creations; enter Yussef Dawes and one fateful gig at Gille Peterson’s Worldwide Awards in 2016, and suddenly he had a record deal to make, if not jazz, something pretty close to it. 

“To be honest, I don’t even like the word jazz myself — I don’t use it myself,” Williams says. “For me, it’s 2018 — jazz is something that was in the ’50s and ’60s. [Americans] are brought up on jazz. We didn’t really have that here, so our thing’s a little bit different. I definitely think the spirit of jazz is in our music, but we’re in a different era now.” Instead, the lineage he sees himself in is that of acid jazz bands like Incognito and the Brand New Heavies — bands that he feels are distinctly London. “Those are people that have sort of passed the torch onto me,” says Williams, who got to meet Incognito bandleader Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick a few years ago. “I really connected with him — we were the same,” he recalls. “We had the same approach to music.” 

What Williams does glean from jazz — what you can hear on The Return’s fluid, unorthodox take on acoustic groove-oriented music — is both a devotion to craft, and the magic of collaborative spontaneity. “The market has been so flooded by electronic music, to the point where anyone can buy a laptop and make a basic house beat very quickly,” Williams says. “But what people can’t do is pick up an instrument and quickly record a jazz album. People are enjoying the experience of going to see five or six people on stage communicating with each other and improvising.” He’ll test that thesis this summer on a run of festival dates around Europe. 

Just as Williams isn’t content with the term jazz, he’s not interested in calling his music fusion or acid jazz or any other term meant to indicate that yes, this music has improvisation but no, it doesn’t sound like Charlie Parker, or Albert Ayler, or Wynton Marsalis. “I’m going to start a new genre with the essence of jazz, but completely different,” he says. “When you see my live shows, it’s something different. The energy’s there, but what we’re doing rhythmically and melodically is definitely new. I’m just working out the name for my new genre, but I’ll get back to you very soon on that. I’ll let you guys know.”….By Natalie Weiner…..~


As one half of Yussef Kamaal, Kamaal Williams made his impact on the contemporary UK jazz scene with his keyboard playing on Black Focus. 
Two years on and the line-up is different but the sound is similar: the ’70s fusion influences, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers et al, are present and accounted for, the beats can be easygoing or knotty, sometimes over the course of the same song, and performances are on point throughout. 
Salaam kicks off the album with watery keys and a groove that starts slow before working itself up to a bustling climax, while Situations (Live In Milan) shows signs of what could be the same structure were it not unfortunately cut off mid-jam. Catch The Loop opens with the most complex rhythms of the album before easing into a syncopated half-time, featuring some drumwork that was surely inspired by the late J Dilla’s head-nodding rap instrumentals. 
This more modern influence is also felt in the synths, whether gently wubbing on “High Roller”, squirming their way around a solo on Rhythm Commission or creating a lush atmosphere on closing track Aisha. There is a fascinating circularity to the jazz-funk that spawned many styles in electronic and rap music coming around again, this time taking direction from artists like Kaytranada and Disclosure. 
Not everything goes over perfectly: LDN Shuffle never quite justifies its own existence over its five-and-a-half minute run-time, but such noodling can be forgiven to an extent on an album that is more about groove than melody. But most other tracks have a progression that keeps them interesting, giving pieces like Salaam the feeling of a linear, engaging journey. 
Overall The Return is a vital addition to both the budding career of Kamaal Williams, and to modern jazz as a whole…..by Ben Devlin ….~









Gredits
Kamaal Williams - Keys 
Pete Martin - Bass 
MckNasty - Drums


Tracklist 
1 Salaam 8:33 
2 Broken Theme 4:26 
3 The Return 1:06 
4 High Roller 3:00 
5 Situations (Live In Milan) 2:59 
6 Catch The Loop (Album Version) 6:54 
7 Rhythm Commission 2:34 
8 Medina 6:57 
9 LDN Shuffle 5:30 
10 Aisha 2:21 

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