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Maulawi - Maulawi

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Artist: Maulawi

Album: Maulawi

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Jun. 6, 2005

Blood should pump nowadays at the mention of another Soul Jazz/Universal Sound release, this one an absolute original that flies in the same circles as some of the greatest jazz and soul records of the early '70s. Maulawi Nururdin's Maulawi covers a staggering landscape, and does a virtual Sherman's March across the territories of funk, blues, post-Palladium latin jazz, samba, and his own unique take on the outtasphere; burning it all down with punishing resolve, and reviving it all in his own image. Maulawi, Nururdin's solo album that died a commercial death shortly after its 1974 release, reveals a palette of compositional depth and sonic intelligence that Nururdin would have had a tough time topping had he recorded again. The product of an era rife with social and political tension, this work highlights a street-hot assembly of musicians as they document their composer/bandleader's detailed, colloquial vision.

A product of Chicago's disparate musical heritages, Maulawi's music, at its roots, shines and glows with the same crackling energy as predecessors like Sun Ra, Muddy Waters and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Nururdin, himself a multi-instrumentalist, composer and band leader, places his own thumbprint high atop the mix with his sax playing, a sweet, razor-thin layer of liberation to the often dense, and sometimes dark, journeys in sound. Stacks of percussion drive the body of this work, buoyed by the staccato thrust of Rufus Reed's bass work, and every song on Maulawi jerks the listener sideways and back again with shifts in key, time and timbre.

The opening track, “Street Rap,” forges a deep swinging funk with the overheated static of a summer evening in a Chicago 'hood; neighbors and passersby engage in both friendly conversation and in-yo-face debate (“you act like I'm blind in one eye and can't see out the other!”) as the band responds with Rhodes counterpunches and warped clavier jabs. The balance of inner jazz calm and shimmering facade of aural chaos occasionally recall the squawking abandon of Miles' Evil Live, but the undying groove plots closer to the same Chi-town vibe that permeates some of Curtis Mayfield's work from the roughly the same era and a few years before, including “We're A Winner” and “(Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below We're All Going To Go.” In the same way Mayfield pushed the ceiling of funk with his reedy, wavering falsetto, Nururdin pushes that end of the spectrum even higher, with vocal arrangements sung by alto Joyce Major (co-composer on nearly all tracks) and soprano Diane Cunningham, adding a virtual jet stream of shrill, but essential and angelic harmony.

Dueling congueros Adam Rudolph (who, interestingly, records now for Soul Jazz under the name Hu Vibrational) and Silas King provide a tense, push-me pull-you foundation of authentic latin rumble. The two percussionists, along with Reed, bassist Al Erick and two drummers, push tracks through multiple changes, exploring Afro-latin rhythms like palo and mambo (“Eltition”), downshifting to a subdued 6/8 clave feel in others, and turning the Coltrane ballad “Naima” almost upside down and celebratory, releasing it from the blues with a blissful samba chorus, featuring the almost flute-like voices of Major and Cunningham. Even when the rhythm section descends into moments of dissonant, fluttering chaos (only at the direction of Maulawi: evidence abounds of this ensemble's unflappable discipline), there's a persistent, shining optimism to the unified voice of the musicians here. Maulawi provides a gritty snapshot of a scrappy ensemble cutting a deep, brooding groove. This is the voice of a gifted composer and bandleader capturing a complex, fearful era without uttering a single word.

By Andy Freivogel

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