Tag Archives: Jazz

On “Ancestral Recall,” Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah Makes Rhythmic Music Sing

Christian-Scott-1244The title of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s 14th release is deceptive. Ancestral Recall is many things, but a throwback it is not.

“Most people are going to think what I’m talking about is only in the past,” Adjuah acknowledges. “But when I use the word ‘ancestral,’ I don’t just mean what came before. We’re taught in the culture that I come from, the Black Indian culture of New Orleans, that you have the ability to channel or access not just what came behind you, but also what is coming. When I’m saying what I’m saying to you, it’s my great-great-grandfather and my great-great-grandson also speaking to you.”

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Album of the Day: KOKOROKO, “KOKOROKO”

In the Nigerian dialect Urhobo, kokoroko means “be strong,” and the strength of this eight-member London-based band lies in their deft balance of sweeping horns, jittery guitar lines, and jubilant vocals. On their latest EP, the traditions of African musical luminaries like Fela Kuti and Ebo Taylor are carried on by their contemporary descendants, on four songs that create rich, colorful worlds of sound, and make a case for Afrobeat’s transatlantic connection.

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Album of the Day: Dexter Story, “Bahir”

During the first minute of Bahir, the new album from multi-instrumentalist and producer Dexter Story, a steady beating drum crescendo slowly evolves into an intricate composition: traditional jazz pianos, classical strings, wind chimes and East African percussion playfully mingle with cymbals that almost sound like a rushing wind. The opening track, “Techawit,” feels like an introduction to Dexter Story’s brand new world — a place where the musician can toe the line between different dimensions, embracing the pull of history and tradition, while conjuring a new, seamless fusion between the old and the new. Continue reading

Jazz and Improvised Music Thrive in Atlanta


Chantae Cann

Atlanta is one of America’s most musical cities. R&B and hip-hop acts that call the city home have dominated the charts since the 1990s, but Atlanta has also produced prominent metal bands, indie rock acts, country performers, and gospel stars. So it should come as no surprise that the city has a vibrant, creative jazz and improvised music community, too. And while those artists may not have the profile of Janelle Monáe or Mastodon, they’re doing fascinating work and performing to enthusiastic local audiences in intimate venues that deserve support.

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NoBusiness Records Brings the Past and Present of Avant-Jazz Together

No Business, Billy Bang

Billy Bang

Ten years into its existence, NoBusiness Records is widely regarded as one of the finest avant-jazz labels in the world. It’s especially renowned for its archival digs into the 1970s New York loft scene and its thoughtful curation of contemporary improvised music from around the world. Based in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, the label grew out of founders Danas Mikailionis and Valerij Anosov’s concert promotions. With no Lithuanian label willing to put out the recordings of those concerts, the pair took matters into their own hands, egged on by Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, whose solo and group performances became NoBusiness’s first releases. “Mats encouraged us to start the label,” recalls Mikailionis. “He said that we needed to be bold and gave us some invaluable advice on how to deal with the press and distributors. Of course it started slowly, but we received very positive feedback and it started growing.”

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Live Without Fear: Rediscovering the Spiritual Jazz of Infinite Spirit Music

Infinite Spirit

On May 31, 1979, a group of young musicians—performing under the banner Infinite Spirit Music and led by pianist Soji Ade (sometimes credited as Soji Adebayo) with conga player Kahil El’Zabar—took three cars from Chicago to the Soto Sound Studio in Evanston and, in a single day, cut Live Without Fear. In those few hours, the band mapped a sonic world without borders. The album was a bold expression of spiritual jazz, indigenous rhythms, and thoughtful Afrocentrism; every vibration feels touched by the spirit of Sun Ra.

Like a lot of locally cut records at the time, Live Without Fear was released without much support and quickly became lost in time. Now, via Jazzman Records and its Holy Grail series, the album has been excavated for reissue, filling in a little piece of Chicago music history and belatedly showcasing the set forged by these hip young virtuosos.

“We were all similar in age, young guys who were listening to a lot of music,” remembers El’Zabar, speaking over the phone four decades later. “It was a goal and aspiration and ideal to be spiritually connected to the music you play, the musicians that you played with, and the community that listened to it. So it was, without being cliché, a very natural idea. The idea of the music for Live Without Fear, Infinite Spirit Music, was all in that sense of aspiration, so to speak.”

The album intertwines various strands of 20th century Chicago musical history. Take El’Zabar himself. A native of the city, he came up rubbing shoulders with greats like Chaka Khan (once married to El’Zabar’s childhood musician partner Hassan Khan). El’Zabar lived across the street from legendary jazz composer Roscoe Mitchell, and counted Earth, Wind & Fire horn players Don Myrick, Louis Satterfield, and Rahmlee Michael Davis as his friends. He played with cult soul star Baby Huey and his band The Babysitters, and shared bills with jazz legends like Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. It was a period when the city boasted a sizeable audience for all forms of Black musical ingenuity.

“At that time, this music was being played on the radio,” says El’Zabar. “There were large audiences across the hippie community, the so-called Afrocentric community. Everyone felt that the music had importance when it came to lifting the spirit. That was the energy [of] Infinite Spirit Music—not to be afraid, to live without fear, to go for what you believe in.”

El’Zabar attended Lake Forest College while Soji Ade went to nearby Northwestern. The genesis of their group came when the two young musicians arrived in Chicago at around the same time. The pair would hang out, driven together by a mutual love for art and music. “We talked about spirituality and connecting that lifeforce to the music, community consciousness, and stuff like that,” recalls El’Zabar. “There was synergy and compassion for many of the same things so we felt it was important to collaborate.”

The group that assembled to record that summer day in 1970—described by Ade in the press notes as a day that “smelled good and spoke all day sunshine”—included multi-instrumentalist “Light” Henry Huff, bass player Mchaka Uba, percussionist and one-time member of the Sun Ra Arkestra Aye Aton, and vocalist Ka T’Etta Aton. In this case, nice weather fueled positive music. The enthusiastic chants of “Father Spirit, Mother Love” asserts the buoyancy pulsing through this young group’s worldview; the constantly shifting rhythms of “Bright Tune” speaks to the avant-garde but is propulsed by peppy rhythms. Lengthy percussion solos sit alongside smooth lounge jazz arrangements throughout the album. Yet Live Without Fear isn’t an exclusively sunny piece. The short, nearly a cappella vocal on “Soul Flower,” for instance, has a kind of doomed beauty to it.

In the mind of El’Zabar, the band’s remit for the album was burned right into its title: “Listening to it, I remember a lot of bliss and a lot of excitement about what it came to,” he recalls. “There was a lot of happiness, there was a lot of excitement because we felt we were making a statement that was going to have meaning and was going to have longevity even if it wasn’t necessarily the most popular.”

He continues, “We weren’t mimicking anybody else—we were taking influences and reinterpreting them as our own. It was that kind of confidence and thankfulness that everybody had. Like, ‘Yeah, this has got something.’”

“The beautiful thing about these guys is their modesty and earnestness,” adds Gerald Short of Jazzman Records in an email. “They make music for the reasons it should be made, to communicate a message of peace and good feelings to those that hear it. There’s no compromise to commercial values. They don’t bend to trends and fashion. It’s pure art.”

Live Without Fear was manufactured, LPs were sold and distributed around the local scene, and that was that. There are no hard narratives around why Infinite Spirit Music failed to find an audience outside of hardcore Chicago jazz fans. The stacks of private records of this type were often made spontaneously, and didn’t fit in with some kind of master plan.

“There was no marketing hype, no promotional budget, no record company backing, no commercial pressure,” says Short. “Just some musicians and the music they made together.”

Ade has remained musically active. In 2008 he released the spiritually engaged album Asase Yaa and he currently performs live with Sura Dupart and the Side Pocket Experience. El’Zabar is currently preparing to release a new album with his long-time band, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Almost simultaneously, one of his earliest records will be made available for reappraisal. But Live Without Fear is more than that. It’s a sonic footprint of an exciting time in Chicago music, marked by young cats who walked the Second City’s streets with a sense of wonder and motivation for ingenuity.

“All the young musicians, you were challenging each other’s skills and techniques and discussing history. It was enormous stimulation that I believe created epiphany across various genres. Whether it was Earth, Wind & Fire or Sun Ra, they were all speaking to spirituality, community and human upliftment through music,” says El’Zabar.

-Dean Van Nguyen

Album of the Day: Nubiyan Twist, “Jungle Run”

To anyone who grew up in the 1990s, certain elements of Jungle Run may be more apparent than others: neo-soul, acid jazz, a dash of trip-hop, and, yes, jungle. Yet even the most cursory listen—more than, say, 90 seconds—will dispel any notions that the album is merely a throwback.

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Seven Steps to Perfection: A Guide Towards the Afrofuture in Music


Illustration by Max Löffler

In the ’90s, R&B and hip-hop music videos by groups like Blaque, OutKast, and Missy Elliott burst out of the hive with the vibrancy of ritual, referencing everything from atmospheric independent African diaspora films, like Daughters of the Dust to Star Trek. These videos were high fantasy—but with the ubiquitous ‘90s video sheen of exaggerated colorwash and fisheye-lens effects.

Also during the ’90s, the term Afrofuturism was coined to discuss the rising interest in surreal, fantastical, and futuristic Black literature (from the likes of Samuel Delany, Octavia E. Butler, and Charles Saunders), and its connection to other forms of Black art (music and visual art in particular) that married science fiction tropes and ideas with Black radical politics, spirituality, and lived experiences. The idea then was to project idealized forms of Blackness into the future without eschewing any of the aesthetic markings that made Black existence in a post-colonial world unique. Artists imagined urban habitation adorned with updated ritual practice, the ghetto as space station geared out in chrome, and general narratives about space travel to coincide with the ecstasy of the music: the layered, heavy beats and hazy, jazz-inspired productions that were the norm of the time. This gave way to the explorations of Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar, and Janelle Monae.

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