This jazz-heavy edition of our best reissues round-up moves from South Florida, Japan, South Africa, and the outer cosmos, before crashing back to Earth with the sound of Colombian punk. Let’s go.
Drive Unlimited / Drive Live
The Drive were an offshoot of The Heshoo Beshoo Group, previously seen on our Best Reissues of 2020 round-up with their only album Armitage Road. March saw the release of The Drive’s first album Can You Feel It? on vinyl only, but these new reissues bring the band into the digital sphere. Drive Unlimited and Drive Live (actually a studio record with some crowd noises overdubbed between songs) are full of tightly performed instrumentals. There’s smooth jazz, kick-the-nightclub-door-in funk, quintessential 1970s soul, and AM radio soft rock, showcasing a band in perfect harmony. See “Move With The Spirit,” an uptempo jam full of instrumental solos, the guitars, keys, and brass interlock with zero friction.
The Four Sounds
Jazz from District Six
Bass player Basil Moses was one of South African jazz’s greatest sons. Born in Cape Town’s former District Six, he distinguished himself throughout the 1970s and ‘80s as a sideman, backing the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim on various recordings and a visiting Percy Sledge, who called his 1970 sell-out tour of South and Southern Africa the greatest of his career. But as a young man in the early 1960s, Moses started The Four Sounds with his brother Clifford, a guitarist, as well as pianist Richard Schilder and drummer Billy Bowers (aka Billie Dollie). In 1969, the group tapped Basil “Manenburg” Coetzee on flute and sax and Roy Nolly on cello and drums to record their debut album Jazz from District Six, a sometimes somber, sometimes stirring piece and one of Basil Moses’s most outstanding works.
The recordings are actually pretty craggy—the lonely flute towards the end of “Seven Steps Lament” sounds like it could have been captured on tape decades earlier. But rough edges can’t obscure the record’s beauty. “Up From Slavery” begins with ominous tones before Basil Moses’s bass emerges from the murk with a double time rhythm and Clifford’s shows off his nimble fret play. There are occasional vocals courtesy of Clifford, too: hear the romantic Nat King Cole-esque lament “Beautiful Katrina.” But Basil Moses’s technique is arguably the biggest draw. His bass play is daring and prominent, moving from offering compositions a steady pulse to providing breakneck solos.
Originals of this ultra-rare LP from 1977 have been going for high prices on internet marketplaces, so this new reissue from Jazz Room Records is a welcome gateway into the Jazzberry Patch. Out of South Florida, the group featured Ben Champion (saxophone), Ken Burkhart (organ and synths), Danny Burger (drums), and various guests. Their one and only album opens with the knockout 20-minute title track—the composition displaying various sides of this multifaceted band: mean Blaxploitation grooves, a lengthy drum solo, nifty organ play, bluesy saxophone. The remaining five songs are tighter: the less than two-minute “Over Easy” is another example of Champion’s sumptuous sax play, while the romantic “Sugar Bear” features a crooning vocal from Burkhart. It adds up to a brilliant rarity, thankfully now available to more people than just those able to snag an original copy.
Compact Disc (CD)
Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that J Jazz equals quality. Well, this month, our cup runneth over: there are two new releases for the J Jazz Masterclass canon, BBE’s series of full-length Japanese jazz album reissues to accompany its J Jazz compilations. First, there is Masao Nakajima Quartet’s Kemo-Sabe from 1979, a classically acoustic jazz album in an era when most forward-thinking Japanese musicians were experimenting with electric fusion, post-modal impressionism, and spiritual jazz. Nakajima, a pianist, leads a band made up of bassist Osamu Kawakami, drummer Donald Bailey, and Toshiyuki Honda, leader of the band Burning Waves, who add flute and saxophone to a few songs. Group chemistry is on point, but on the old Leonard Bernstein number “My Love” and his own composition “Beloved Diane,” Nakakima’s dashing, adventurous play comes to the fore.
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Noriko Miyamoto’s Push is an unusual entry into the J Jazz series. Pop soul numbers like “Monologue” could fit onto Japanese city pop playlists, a genre currently experiencing renewed interest. Unusually, the singer also performs songs in English, such as the pretty jazz standard “Everything I Have Is Yours.” Yet producer Isao Suzuki mixes orthodox jazz with fusion sounds popular at the time: see the speedy and spaced-out electric bass play and keyboard soloing on this version of the popular Victor Young composition “Stella By Starlight.”
No Futuro / No Solucion
Bogotá, Colombia quartet Primer Regimen follow up the April release of their second EP with a reissue of their first, No Futuro / No Solucion, from 2017, also out via Discos Enfermos. It’s five songs of raw, hardcore, Spanish-language punk—songs like “Mundo Muerto” offering a hyper-speed blast of gnarled guitars and hyperactive drums. With no track going beyond two and a half minutes, it’s a ragged speed-blur that attacks you from all angles.
Aomawa: The 1970s Recordings
Vinyl, Compact Disc (CD)
Like a miracle, Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids have found fresh impetus in recent years, breaking a 35-year recording hiatus to drop four albums since 2011. For decades, the band’s studio output was made up of three LPs recorded in the 1970s—the three LPs now compiled under the title Aomawa: The 1970s Recordings. Ackamoor, an alto saxophonist, first met Margaux Simmons and bassist Kimathi Asante while they were students at Antioch College in Ohio, yet it was in Besançon, France, in 1972, that the trio founded The Pyramids. They soon performed their first shows in Amsterdam before adding drummer Donald Robinson. The Pyramids released Lalibela in 1973, King Of Kings in 1974, and Birth / Speed / Merging in 1976 before disbanding. (Aomawa: The 1970s Recordings adds a 1975 live session for KQED TV.) Inspired by the almighty Sun Ra, The Pyramids look to the cosmos while incorporating Sub-Saharan jazz, free jazz, and Afrobeat into their sound. Take the three-song suite “Queen Of The Spirits”: congas, bongos, flutes, and many other instruments form a dense tapestry of indigenous rhythms and melodies, with ceremonial-style chanting lingering in the background. These are musical mantras to awaken any slumbering spirits residing in the burial chambers of the great pyramids.
Vinyl, Compact Disc (CD)
Hailing from Kingston, Jamaica, Joe Isaacs’ drumming is noted for playing a major role in the evolution of the ska beat towards slower, steadier rocksteady in the mid-1960s. This new compilation gathers the singles—vocals, dubs, the lot—Isaacs recorded in Canada in 1979 and 1980 with Risco Connection, his reggae-disco crossover band. Some of the covers here are lovingly faithful to the originals: this version of McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” similarly plays the melody that’s in your head right now on swooning strings, while adding in more reggae-style bounce. And check out Isaacs’ drumming on this cover of Diana Ross’s “It’s My House,” the snappy snares providing the ideal bedrock for the cool groove, the hook taking off towards the heavens as the female vocalist hits the last word on the line, “It was built for love.”
Live in Paris (1974)
If you’ve ever received a postcard from Paris, it probably featured a photograph of the famous 16th arrondissement of Paris. Sitting near the river Seine, about two kilometers from the Eiffel Tower, is Maison de la Radio, the headquarters of Radio France. Its Grand Auditorium Studio 104 welcomed many American jazz masters—and French label Transversales Disques is making a habit of reissuing their performances. In 2020, the company put out a set from Pharaoh Sanders and has a release from Ahmad Jamal still to come. But the current focus is on saxophonist Archie Shepp, who recorded in the auditorium on March 23, 1974.
Live in Paris (1974) opens with a 24-minute rendition of “Things Have Got to Change.” With support from Siegfried Kessler (piano), Noël McGhie (drums), Bob Reid (double bass), and Pablo Kino (percussion), Shepp plays with incredible passion and intensity. Seven minutes in, he begins to scream the title. The effect of his bare voice is disarmingly intimate and moving as we hear the simple sound of wordless improvised utterances—until you realize Shepp is chanting “Africa,” breaking up each syllable to form the words “a free continent.” After the intensity of “Things Have Got to Change,” the smooth “Along Came Betty” is like a soothing balm, and the set finishes with a performance of “Blues For Donald Duck,” the frenetic percussion and bass solos giving the number the mischievous streak its title suggests. Recordings of jazz greats made in Europe have regularly come onto the market in recent years, and Transversales Disques are doing wonderful work filling out the history.