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Kamaal Williams - The Return Music Album Reviews

Kamaal Williams - The Return Music Album Reviews
Following the dissolution of the jazz-funk duo Yussef Kamaal, the London keyboardist returns with an urbane, dynamic album that’s deeply rooted in the city’s rhythms.

Walk the streets of South London and you might catch Kamaal Williams cruising the concrete in a customized Chevy Impala. His swaggering brand of cool-hand jazz makes for potent lowrider fuel—the cosmic keys and snappy drums could tempt even Roy Ayers to ride shotgun. This is music that connects Camberwell to Cali, not just in its affinity for the pioneering cats of classic West Coast sounds but its spiritual kinship to Kamasi Washington, Ryan Porter, Terrace Martin, Thundercat, and other latter-day LA artists. Spanning both sides of the Atlantic, this kaleidoscopic vision of jazz comes cut with a motley set of groovy throwback influences.

Williams (who also produces soulful house as Henry Wu) first laid out his smooth remit alongside drummer Yussef Dayes in the duo Yussef Kamaal. The pair’s still-great 2016 album Black Focus seamlessly blended jazz, funk, boogie, Afrobeat, and hip-hop in a way that captured the culturally diverse districts of the English capital. In doing so, Yussef Kamaal positioned themselves alongside the likes of Shabaka Hutchings, Zara McFarlane, and the Ezra Collective as old-school-minded Londoners who made music that gloriously distilled the city’s plurality. Against the acidic backdrop of Brexit-era Britain, where the struggles of immigrants and institutional hostility toward people of color have been so brutally laid out by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and Windrush scandal, Yussef Kamaal’s music felt like a small antidote to the malignancy stirring in the UK’s soul.

Yet the group’s excellence manifested just once. They split last year, the break so sudden that Williams and Dayes didn’t even fulfill all their gigging commitments as a duo. And now we have The Return, which could easily be the sequel to Black Focus—at least, that seems to be Williams’ pitch. The album artwork and fonts match. He even named his label Black Focus! Most importantly, the music maintains the same softly bumpin’ style, even without Dayes by his side.

As soon as Williams’ celestial keys begin to percolate and swirl on the opening “Salaam,” it’s clear that little has changed. The track’s silky chords and sluggish grooves satisfy like a cold beer in the summertime, with the 1970s R&B flavor highlighting Williams’ eagerness to venture a couple degrees further away from jazz than he did on Black Focus. Hearing the young virtuoso contort classic genres to his will is thrilling. And while Dayes’ rasping drumming—so key to Black Focus’ hippest jams, like “Lowrider” and “Joint 17”—is missed, newly recruited percussionist MckNasty offers his own urbane rhythms. The ethos of “Catch the Loop” is right there in the title: The rubbery bassline and crisp drums, evoking the spirit of the funky practitioner Dr. Lonnie Smith, are just begging rap producers to come snatch a sample.

Much of The Return highlights Williams as a master arranger. On “Broken Theme,” the off-kilter drums and keys sound like they’ve been beamed in from two completely different planets, yet every few seconds, they snap into line, bringing balance to the wild freak-out. The calming “Medina,” meanwhile, is the song most rooted in the tradition of basement jazz clubs. The serene mood is as timeless as whiskey and bitters, and Williams caresses the keys like he has all the time in the universe.

Should you be looking for flaws, there are a couple of strange decisions. “Rhythm Commission” could have been an album highlight had it been given room to breathe, but the two-and-a-half minute running time is barely enough to let the funk sink in. “The Return” swoons with string-led orchestration reminiscent of Jon Brion’s arrangements on Kanye West’s Late Registration, but at just 66 seconds long, the track begs to be developed into a full-bodied number. There was room for this album to grow.

Williams’ ambition appears to have been to present himself as belonging to the same continuum as Yussef Kamaal while establishing himself as a solo artist. Job done. Yet The Return does even more. It’s a sweet snapshot of London 2018—an encapsulation of a newly brewing jazz community, uniting numerous cultural strands that make up the city. When the scene needed him most, Kamaal Williams returned to show the way.

View the original article here


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