Separated on the day of their sold-out show at Koko Camden, the split of the ground- breaking Yussef Kamaal felt like the premature end of something truly great. Only one week after winning the Breakthrough Act at the Jazz FM Awards, the scene felt a collective weight of missed opportunity for the British duo.
Yet, for Kamaal Williams this was only the beginning. Once the dust had settled, he immediately sought to build on the success of the critically acclaimed 'Black Focus', the 2016 record that put British jazz back on the map. His latest project, the aptly named ‘The Return’ confirms Kamaal’s position as the leader in this recent surge in UK jazz.
It seems this new sense of independence as an artist has allowed him to shake off the darker edge that ran through 'Black Focus', creating a more laid back, funk-soaked sound.
The record has a close connection with West Coast funk, the cosmic drums and psychedelic synths evoke a picture of California in the summertime. Importantly, Williams mixes this West Coast style with the diverse energies coming out of London, with touches of R&B, hip hop and drum 'n' bass, lingering throughout. Here he has accurately depicted the state of contemporary pop culture, that uses the ease of access to a variety of influences to form a unique hybridity in style.
Equally, 'The Return' showcases the link between new wave jazz in California and London. The hot pot of grooves coming out of the capital from the likes of Kamaal Williams, Sons Of Kemet, Blue Lab Beats and Nubya Garcia is mirrored in equal measure by Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin across the pond.
Williams has built on the free-flowing nature we saw in 'Black Focus', encapsulating the expressive nature that jazz was built on. This belief in spontaneity is shown on ‘Sitautions’, which was live recorded in Milan for the album. As a collective, Williams’ band are equally effective when swirling through the high energy ‘Catch The Loop’ as they are on the gentle ‘Medina’. The latter’s delicate drums and meditative bassline cruise effortlessly alongside Kamaal’s velvety keys.
Yet the defining moment comes at the climax of the title track, which has a distinct similarity to 'Strings Of Light' from 'Black Focus'. The powerful strings build to a tantalising crescendo, only to fade into the sound of William’s voice. He counts his band into the funk driven 'High Roller', symbolically steering his sound into new territories, paying homage to his previous work while moving forward on his own.
This album signifies a moment for UK jazz but more importantly this a moment for Kamaal Williams.
Words: Angus McKeon
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