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Jazz - Released July 26, 2019 | ECM

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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released October 4, 2011 | Rhino Atlantic

Alto saxophonist and composer Robin Kenyatta made a slew of records in the 1970s that have been terribly misunderstood, to say the least. It was obvious by the time that Kenyatta released Terra Nova in 1973 that he was revisioning jazz as the perfect integration point for many -- if not all -- forms of popular music; Terra Nova had explored Caribbean rhythms (in particular reggae and calypso). But on his 1974 album Stompin' at the Savoy, Kenyatta took the revered jazz tradition and inserted it right into the heart of then contemporary styles of funk, soul, and pop, and even early club disco. Produced by Michael Cuscuna for Atlantic Records, there is a dazzling array of musicians present here in various groupings: Billy Harper, Dr. John, Ron Carter, Chuck Rainey, Lew Soloff, Alphonse Mouzon, Ralph MacDonald, Jimmy Knepper, Bernard Purdie, Sonelius Smith, Larry Willis, Walter Booker, Lewis Worrell, and more. The title cut is radically rearranged to include a female backing chorus doing a stepped up version of the Andrews Sisters-LaBelle style -- percussionists, a four-piece horn section, electric bass, Rhodes piano -- that walks the line between breezy funk and disco. It may sound like a mess but it works beautifully. This preps the listener for Arnett Cobb's Texas R&B nugget "Smooth Sailing," that sticks closer to the vest but is still ruled by a fingerpopping stroll of an electric bassline, electric guitars, and congas. The feel is entirely natural and the groove is easy. But juxtapose this with pianist Smith (known better to the jazz vanguard than the mainstream) whose beautifully mysterious "The Need to Smile," is a ten-minute jam where Willis' Rhodes, Smith's acoustic piano, and Kenyatta on soprano introduce a ballad as they slip and glide over Carter's upright bass, Guilherme Franco's percussion, and Mouzon's skittering drums for half the tune until it opens up into a full-on exploratory post-bop tune. Smith also lent his brief but beautiful "Mellow in the Park," to this set with fine flute work by Kenyatta. The real shockers, however, are wonderfully empathic readings of two pop hits of the day: a faux-reggae version of "Neither One of Us," (right, the Jim Weatherly number that scored big for Gladys Knight), and a downright freaky read of the Dickey Betts-penned Allman Brothers hit "Jessica," with an Afro-Cuban montuno rhythm played by Dwight Brewster's Rhodes piano against Rainey's funked up bassline and Winston Grennan's breakbeats. The set closes with a reggae read of Allen Toussaint's "River Boat," in place of the New Orleans second line rhythm -- even though it is evoked here by MacDonald. In 2008 -- the year this date finally appeared on CD -- with all the innovations brought to popular music, and yes, jazz too, by culture jamming and breakbeat science, this set feels right on time. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released October 4, 2011 | Rhino Atlantic

In 1972, two years after the release of Robin Kenyatta's seminal Girl from Martinique outing for ECM, he signed to Atlantic and released another seminal bit of classy jazz-funk. Gypsy Man, produced by Michael Cuscuna, has a who's-who lineup of players who would be synonymous with the newly emerging subgenre of jazz: drummer Billy Cobham (still a member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the time), percussionist Ralph MacDonald, session drummer Rick Marotta, guitarists Keith Loving and David Spinozza, pianist Larry Willis on Fender Rhodes, bassist Stanley Clarke (who released his own classic debut Children of Forever the same year and played on two of Norman Connors now legendary dates from the period, Dance of Magic and Dark of Light), and more. The music here is polished, but complex and deeply emotive. The opener is a very compelling reading of Gato Barbieri's title theme to "Last Tango in Paris," complete with sighed backing vocals, "Shaft"-style choppy wah-wah guitars, strings, and Kenyatta blowing a slightly edgy alto saxophone with great breaks by Cobham. The Latin percussion in "Another Freight Train" sets its knotty vamp off nicely, as Kenyatta goes right into the melody doing his best King Curtis. It's a Kenyatta tune that melds meat-and-potatoes blowing, fusion-style riffs, and heavy funk. Clarke's fat, in-your-face bassline and the electric six-string's power chords in "Werewolf" prefigure Kenyatta's killer flute break that's worthy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. By contrast, "Reflective Silence," with its Afro-Cuban percussion and Kenyatta's soprano playing, offers a view of the emerging spiritual jazz from the Strata East label. The layers of percussion are Kenyatta's only accompaniment on the cut. Despite the contemporary bent of these first four tracks, Kenyatta tosses listeners a curve ball with his beautifully sweet reading of Stevie Wonder's "Seems So Long," and a drenched-in-Southern soul take on Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember" that closes the set. On the way are a pair of fine originals in the Northern soul-flavored funk of the title track (with vocals by Kenyatta and Lalomie Washburn), and the South African jazz-tinged "Melodie Chinoise," no doubt influenced by the township jazz that was making its way to European and American shores in the music of Abdullah Ibrahim (then known as Dollar Brand), and Hugh Masekela's less pop-oriented affairs, and even the bands of Chris McGregor, Johnny Dyani, and Dudu Pakwana. In sum, of Kenyatta's Atlantic-era recordings, Gypsy Man stands out mightily as one of the great jazz-funk outings of the '70s; it is an all but forgotten jazz classic. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released July 26, 2019 | ECM

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Jazz - Released April 1, 2012 | Vintage Masters Inc.

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Contemporary Jazz - Released March 5, 2013 | Henry Stone Music USA, Inc.

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Soul - Released October 4, 2011 | Rhino Atlantic

Backing off a bit from the outright funky fusion of 1972's Gypsy Man, Terra Nova nonetheless finds saxophonist Robin Kenyatta still indulging his newfound love of electricity and rhythmically altered jazz-funk tempered by his newfound love of Caribbean music. This Michael Cuscuna-produced date showcases Kenyatta's alto in three different settings -- though half of them feature him in an octet with a pair of electric guitarists and two pianists, an organist, bassist, drummer, and no less than Ralph MacDonald on percussion. The feel on most of these cuts is informed by bubbling funky reggae and calypso. Eric Kaz's "Temptation Took Control (And I Fell)" and " Mother Earth (Provides for Me)," Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance" and the originals "Island Shakedown" and the title track (that add saxophonist Carlos Garnett, trumpeter Enrico Rava, and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa), are all drenched in these rhythms. The remaining two numbers include a tough, Ray Charles- inflected soul-jazz version of Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad," and the straight up proto-smooth jazz tune "Touch." These latter two numbers make the recording feel a bit schizy, but nonetheless extremely enjoyable -- though in 1973 it must have felt like it was coming from left-field -- and has dated well This is a prime example of the wide range of musical interests Kenyatta attempted to integrate during the '70s. Wounded Bird finally made this set available on CD in 2008. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released January 26, 2000 | Rhino Atlantic

Recorded and released after a two-year stint in Europe, Until marks alto saxophonist Robin Kenyatta's American debut as a leader, after sideman tenures with Sonny Stitt, Bill Dixon, and Archie Shepp. For anyone (of the few) who followed the rather obscure reedman's career, this set -- originally released on the Atlantic jazz subsidiary Vortex and produced by Joel Dorn -- is indicative of the restless nature of Kenyatta's career on his own records: he was not only interested in, but attempted to play, the entire range of jazz. For starters, there are three different units scattered across the album. The opener, "Until," written by Barry Miles, is a tender, straight-ahead ballad that showcasesKenyatta's alto accompanied by pianist Fred Simmons, bassist Walter Booker, and drummer Horace Arnold. The lyricism Kenyatta possesses here is celebratory; it's a near perfect union of technical mastery and soulfulness. "This Year," written by trumpeter Mike Lawrence, is an adventurous piece informed by the vanguard lyricism of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, as it meets the swinging hard bop tradition. It is performed by a pianoless quartet that includes Lawrence. A quintet with Simmons performs the closing "Little Blue Devil," a Kenyatta original that swings harder and stays closer to the hard bop vest. The strangest number here, and one that completely locates Kenyatta in the exploratory nature of the era, is his own "You Know How We Do," recorded by a pianoless septet with Roswell Rudd on trombone, percussionist Archie Lee, and second bassist Lewis Worrell. The stark, gospel-style head (also deeply influenced by Coleman), where it exists at all, is supplanted by the dual bass fury and a solidly rhythmic attack -- even the solo phrasings on the brass and saxophone underscore this. While Until may have been a tad schizophrenic for the time period as jazz was choosing sides along with everything else in the culture, it sounds timeless and even contemporary in the 21st century, making for a wonderful starting point for anyone interested in pursuing the mercurial nature of Kenyatta's music. This date was finally issued on CD in 2008 by Wounded Bird Records, marking the first time his material had been made available in the digital age. ~ Thom Jurek