March 19, 2001
Ethnic Stew and Brew
Back in the early 1960s when the phrases "acid jazz", "crossover" and so-called "contemporary jazz" weren't in the mouths of every record company weasel, genuine soul jazz performances such as Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" and Nat Adderley's "Work Song" became popular with no mass market preplanning.
This newest disc by trumpeter Roy Campbell's Pyramid Trio is a reminder of those days and will likely be as well received. Although he describes the band as being "about World Music with a touch of Jazz", that "touch" is more like a two heaping handfuls. More noteworthy, ETHNIC STEW AND BREWS can be put in the elite company of such funky jazz discs as those produced from the likes of Morgan, Adderley, Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons, because these groove moves flow generically from the brassman's overall conception.
Unlike such funk/jam band wannabes as Medeski, Martin & Wood or Charlie Hunter, Bronx, N.Y.-based Campbell, 49, grew up in the milieu, having internalized the blues as well as the lessons of hard bop trumpet masters like Morgan and Woody Shaw when he was younger. Then he took it all a bit further. So, just as there's a bit of "outside" in his playing of more conventional melodies, there's a touch of "inside" when he works in such freer contexts as the cooperative quartet Other Dimensions In Music (ODM) and Peter Brötzmann's Die Like A Dog quartet.
On this disc, Campbell is able to create all the sounds he needs with only two helpmates, because the two are some of improvised music's most accomplished instrumentalists. Drummer of choice for sax masters Fred Anderson and Brötzmann among others, Drake is as proficient on exotic percussion as he is on the trap set. He's one of those Windy City drummers whose polyrhythmic style seems to reflect Africa as well as that city's South Side. Leader of the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra and member of several other groups, including ODM and saxophonist David S. Ware's aggregation, bassist Parker has worked with pianist Cecil Taylor and is organizer of festivals that pull the disparate parts of New York's Lower East Side scene together. Here, his time is so strong, and his attack so authoritative, that there's a point on the finger-snapping title tune where he seems to playing an electric rather than an acoustic instrument. Not that he's a slouch with a bow either: Just listen to his solo on "Imhotep".
Less cerebral than Campbell's two previous Pyramid Trio outings — with different drummers — this disc, while mainly groove-oriented, still involves a lot more than dance hall hedonism. "Impressions of Yokahama", for instance begins with the sounds of finger cymbals and Parker on shakuhachi flute, before transmutating itself into a vaguely-Oriental sounding open horn, double time bass and drum color field. On the other hand, true to its title, "Heavenly Ascending" is mid-tempo and meditative.
"Amadou Diallo", an over-12 minute memorial to the unarmed African immigrant shot by New York police in his own apartment building, begins with a conga solo and some unidentifiable horn reverberations before Campbell unveils disconsolate, dissonant multiple note-straining flugelhorn runs. It ends with the detonation of rim shots from Drake — imitating the number of bullets that killed Diallo — matched by a similar number of blasts from Campbell's horn.
Smart and soulful at the same time this CD may end up becoming a legendary beat feast for forward thinking samplers. At the same time it has more than enough meaty musical content to be sought out by the serious jazz fan.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Tazz's Dilemna 2. Malcolm, Martin and Mandela 3. Imhotep 4.* Impressions of Yokahama 5. Ethnic Stew and Brew 6. Heavenly Ascending 7. Amadou Diallo
Personnel: Roy Campbell (trumpet, flugelhorn, pocket trumpet, percussion); William Parker (bass, percussion, shakuhachi flute*); Hamid Drake (drums, percussion)