PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
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 and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


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.