PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Kamaal Williams Creates Retro-Futurist Jazz Fusion on 'The Return'

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

With his first solo release, keyboardist Kamaal Williams furthers the sonic exploration begun with drummer Yussef Dayes on 2016's Black Focus.

The Return
Kamaal Williams

Black Focus

25 May 2018

With the 2016 release of Yussef Kamaal's Black Focus, the duo of drummer Yussef Dayes and keyboardist Kamaal Williams (nee Henry Wu) showed themselves to be of the same caliber and mind of fellow astral travelers and '70s jazz/funk/fusion revivalists Flying Lotus, Thundercat, et. al. It was an album that could have easily passed for some lost private press album recorded during the genre's mid-'70s heyday, earning a number of fans and critical adulations along the way. Now, two years later, Williams steps out on his own with The Return, an album which, not surprisingly, feels very much like a continuation of what he started with Dayes on Black Focus, melding electronics with vintage jazz/funk vibes to create something at once retro and modern; call it retro-futurist jazz fusion.

Where its predecessor was built around a series of vocal samples and interludes wrapped around a heady mixture of electronic and jazz music that often wandered off into more esoteric, spiritual realms, The Return sticks to the funk throughout. Opening with the synth-heavy "Aisha", Williams eases the listener in, allowing for a period of adjustment before deploying the heavier side of jazz/funk/fusion on the appropriately-titled and wickedly funky "Broken Theme". Sounding for all the world like an outtake from Head Hunters-era Herbie Hancock – complete with a rhythm section that could, to less trained ears, pass for Paul Jackson's bubbling bass and Harvey Mason's frenetic work on the kit – "Broken Theme" is a stellar piece of jazz funk heavily indebted to both the era and artists to have inspired it.

"Catch the Loop" employs a sputtering, machine gun-fire drum loop atop which Williams adds a series of vintage synth stabs that never truly solidify into anything wholly melodically recognizable. Instead, the track functions as a conduit for a series of rhythmic exercises and textures that lend the track a sense of unease and foreboding. As the rhythm lessens to a lock-step, club-footed march, the groove becomes so heavy that listeners will be hard-pressed to stop their heads from nodding along emphatically in time. It's an effective rhythmic exercise that plays as a series of interconnected musical ideas built around an incessant collection of drum grooves.

"High Roller" rides a wickedly funky, serpentine bass groove to great effect. Augmented by strings and assorted synth textures, it's one of the more dynamic tracks The Return has to offer, sounding at times like a lost Weather Report track; the keyboard and bass interplay seem at times to be hinting at the bridge section of "Teen Town". Indeed, much of The Return feels like a series of clever allusions to albums like Heavy Weather, Head Hunters, Sextant and Sunburst, the sound and feel having been perfectly captured and replicated with a more modernist bent. "LDN Shuffle" features a ferociously funky and borderline atonal solo from guitarists Mansur Brown that plays very much like the work of the late Allan Holdsworth.

The album's back half tends to lessen the tempos and allow for greater washes of synth to blanket the incessant rhythmic prowess on display. The appropriately-titled "Rhythm Commission" offers a slowly evolving groove that, by track's end, has blossomed into a gloriously funky exercise in rhythmic precision. "Salaam", the album's penultimate track and a clear showcase for Williams' sensitive, dexterous keyboard playing, offers a lengthy reprise from the strutting funk of the preceding tracks. It's far more atmospheric and exploratory than nearly anything else here, utilizing a half-time feel groove that still manages to keep heads nodding.

In all, The Return serves as a fine continuation to what Williams started with Dayes with Black Focus, strengthening his musical focus and flawlessly replicating a very particular sound and style heavily indebted to the likes of Herbie Hancock, Eddie Henderson, George Duke and a host of other jazz/funk/fusion luminaries. While not a perfect album – there are moments wherein it feels like the musicians are too focused on sonic replication to truly put any sort of heart and soul behind the grooves – The Return is nonetheless another fine release in the ever-increasing catalog of fascinating 21st century jazz records.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.