Music of Idris Ackamoor 1971-2004

[EM Records,]

Saxophonist Idris Ackamoor is a sadly overlooked figure. Since forming The Collective, which later became known as The Pyramids in 1971, he has engaged on a long journey of self-discovery. Blended with a potent concoction of jazz, African rhythms and outward looking mentality, within The Pyramids Ackamoor had a solid outlet for his music to thrive. Though overshadowed by AACM and musicians surrounding the Chicago scene, Ackamoor's music is no less vibrant and deserves to come out of the shadows. A few months back, Japanese imprint EM Records issued 2 CD collection of some of Ackamoor's better works. As if to point out its significance, six out of the sixteen tracks have never before been issued. Three quarters of the collection pay homage to The Pyramids' early 70's output. In fact, the first track, "The Shepherd's Tune" is a virgin track The Collective performed at their very first concert in Ohio in 1971. With Ackamoor on soprano, Margaux Simmons on flute, pianist Lester Knibbs, drummer Steve Maniscoso and Steve Rumboat on French horn, the quintet wails some strong motifs throughout the tune's 17 impassioned minutes. Mackamoor is especially effective as his soprano motions spiral out of control and collide with the horn player. The mix is a bit rough, which means Knibbs' piano is sometimes drowned out. Once they crossed the ocean, The Pyramids gained an extra jolt of energy. With Kimathi Asante-Hagstrom on electric bass, the band's joyful music gains a bonus layer of electricity. Once again, Ackamoor's impassioned soprano cries are joined by Simmons' flute wails and the whole comes together musically quite well during the tune's eleven minute run. During their 1973 trip to Ghana, Idris and Margaux performed with The Kings Drummers. Previously unreleased field recording "Africa" showcase the perfectly in-tune sound of talking and bass drums of the royal musicians. Ackamoor's sax and Simmons' flute work is stupendous as the percussion-heavy track keeps a steady pace from beginning to end. The collection closes off with three pieces from Ackamoor's most recent output. "Topanga" is a more straight-forward track that features some outstanding piano work from Fred Harris. Title track from 2000 album "Centurian" sees Ackamoor return to his percussion-heavy flurry of sound, while on the closing "Cubana" from 2004's "Homage to Cuba", Ackamoor is in a more relaxed mode as he's playing some fine, melodic passages alongside tenor giant Chico Freeman. To say this collection is essential is an understatement of the year. If anything, it achieves its purpose, which is to shower with attention a living legend of modern jazz.

Tom Sekowski

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