Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus

Astral Jazz from the UK

written by Mikey Casey

20160913-Yusef-Kamaal.jpgYussef Dayes (drummer) and Kamaal Williams (keys/aka Henry Wu) of Yussef Kamaal

Once again you can rely on the always consistent tastes of Gilles Peterson to be at the forefront of what is essential in his neck of the woods. His jurisdiction is the globe and thru the years he has leveraged his influence into new ventures such as his influential radio show, Worldwide FM (WorldwideFM.net), and his latest label Brownswood Recordings.

With the release of the album Black Focus by the group Yussef Kamaal the people working over at Brownswood have themselves quite a formidable record to reckon with. If you are into the ongoing dialogue regarding the resurgence of jazz in Los Angeles and London recently are likely aware of all the jazz-centric projects that have been dropping in the last year. Recent releases from Badbadnotgood (IV, Innovative Leisure), Kamasi Washington (The Epic/Brainfeeder), Josef Leimberg (Astral Progressions/World Galaxy Records), GoGo Penguin (Man Made Object/Decca Records) are a few of the notables I can recall and all are exceptional records in their own right. Black Focus is no different and deserves to be shelved right up there with the rest of your Jazz Fusion records. 

Make no mistake – this is a Fusion record and the combinations being put together here are rooted in 70’s Jazz Fusion and Funk while extracting elements from contemporary genres like broken beat, drum n’ bass, and the instrumental beat scene. Sonically it is like Weather Report and early era Jamiroquai had a baby that only produces groove laden instrumentals. 

While each is rooted in a foundation of bass and drums (typical of jazz), the interplay between the musicians is how character and personality come to the fore. Tracks like Remembrance, Black Focus, and Joint 17  allow space for the lead instruments (synth/rhodes, horn section, guitar) to noodle. It takes an 8-note trumpet sequence to get Black Focus moving and the pace of the groove (not too fast; not too slow) is a nice opener for what is to come on the follow up track Strings of Light, the standout track on the album by far. Impressively executed, it is the bass playing that really propels Strings of Light forward and through the stratosphere with conversational jabs in between the rolling rhythm of the snare and rim shot combos. About a 1/3 of the way through the track the bass drifts into a melodically languid series of chords heralding the arrival of the trumpet with its heavy reverb-laden screech to take the listener way out on the fringes. The interplay between bass and trumpet in this section is a high point and example of what is great about this record.

Thankfully their are moments to catch your breath with Yo Chavez and Joint 17 that are centered around the rhodes piano to which this music is so well suited. Thinking of kindred spirits, these tracks would not sound out of place on a Hiatus Kaiyote record at all. Just check Rainbow Rhodes and Sphinx  Gate from their Tawk Tomahawk record as a small example of kindred connectivity between the two groups.

If you are a fan of Flying Lotus, 4Hero, Hiatus Kaiyote, & Badbadnotgood then this is a record you should be checking out!

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