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The Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble - Drumdance to the Motherland

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Artist: The Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble

Album: Drumdance to the Motherland

Label: Eremite

Review date: Aug. 20, 2006

If the word pairs "long-lost" and "out-jazz" start you drooling, stop reading now and fetch your bowl. None of  the players on Drumdance to the Motherland were well known when it was recorded in 1972, and only bandleader Khan Jamal - who partners nowadays with Matthew Shipp and Grachan Moncur III - has since evaded obscurity. This album was released in miniscule numbers on Byard Lancaster's short-lived Dogtown records and barely circulated beyond the Philadelphia city limits.

And yet this has to be one of the reissues of the year. Whether by design or by chance, it bears a strong resemblance to the work of another resident of the city of brotherly love - Sun Ra. Like Ra's efforts for his own Saturn imprint, the recording is mystery-maximizingly murky and echo-laden. Engineer Mario Falana's (yup, Lola's brother) live reverb applications, particularly the way he makes isolated drum beats leap out of the percussive tapestry, navigate this record into the zone where King Tubby's dub meets Ra's Cosmic Tones For Mental Healing.

Jamal is currently known almost exclusively for his mallets playing, and certainly his vibraphone and marimba playing here ably cover the range from coolly melodic modal questing to astronautical space-throb. But he and drummer Dwight James also double on clarinet; on "Drum Dance," their dueling overblown reeds dart and wheel above an Afro-Latin quilt of handclaps and drums like swallows wheeling and diving above city roofs. Billy Mills' Fender bass comes to the fore on "Inner Peace," navigating a rainforest of tumbling bell tones and Monnette Sudler's reverberant guitar licks as instinctually as a jungle-born guide. Sudler is equally comfortable functioning as the keeper of the jazz flame here, spinning out idiomatic licks that float seductively above the fray, as she is diving into deep proto-dub canyons. Much of this record's appeal resides in the way that assimilated elements, such as Sudler's picking, draw you in only to turn you adrift in a sea of wondrous cosmic confusion.

By Bill Meyer

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