Music Monday: More Philly Jazz

The last couple of weeks have been a bit busier than I had expected and this has unfortunately impinged upon my music listening time. Oddly enough, I’ve found it more enjoyable lately to spend time outside on my bike, with the dogs in the park, or, even, jogging. 

That said, I found time to enjoy an album that I hadn’t heard but has floated around the edges of my “try to find” list for years. In fact, I hadn’t seen a CD version of this for sale for a few years and had more or less given up on finding it. The album is Khan Jamal’s Creative Arts Ensemble’s Drum Dance to the Motherland recorded in 1972 and originally released by a tiny label Dogtown Records in 1973 (Dogtown is a “sub-neighborhood” of Germantown in Philadelphia and in the 1970s, it was a hotbed of the Philly Jazz scene). It was re-released a number of times on vinyl and once on CD and it sounds like the digital release available on Bandcamp was a “needle drop” recorded from a well-preserved LP.

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The album itself is remarkable. Khan Jamal is a vibe player whose work across various 1970s free jazz, avant garde, and soul jazz recordings is pretty well known. I’ve blogged about his work on the Philly soul jazz classic New Horizons by Sons of Liberation last year on the blog. In fact, the Creative Arts Ensemble who accompany Khan Jamal on Drum Dance for the Motherland is essentially the same band that plays on New Horizons sans Byard Lancaster. The opening track on Drum Dance is true to the album’s name and features some remarkable polyrhythmic drumming that wouldn’t sound out of place on any number of late-1960s or early-1970s jazz albums. The album hits its stride, however, with “Drum Dance” and especially “Inner Peace.” The latter is a funktastic soul jazz classic that deserved to be listened to at high volumes!

My opportunity to appreciate the drum work on Drum Dance for the Motherland coincided with the release of some previously unreleased recordings by another drum-forward avant garde and free jazz outfit, The Pyramids. They appear to have released a box set titled Aomawa: The 1970s Recordings and featuring their essential early 1970s albums: LalibelaKing of Kinds, and Birth/Speed/Merging as well as a fourth album in this set: Live at KQED, 1975

A recent New York Times’ review of the Pyramids box set gives an overview of their genealogy, work, and commitments. They started at Antioch College in Ohio under the mentorship of Cecil Taylor and Charles Tyler and traveled Africa while developing their distinctive sound. Live at KQED, 1975 won’t change your feeling about this band, but it will serve as a nice introduction to their work. 

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One of the amazing things about Khan Jamal and The Pyramids is how these performers created their own record labels, their own performance spaces, and a sense of community. They saw their music as a catalyst for social change as well as an effort to build an financially sustainable and independent present.  

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