Breath of Life CD Review
The Nu Nova Compound
A Gift from Trane
Kweli Tutashina, responding to a Son House posting I did on a blog, aske me if I was hip to Ghasem Batamuntu, a West Coast saxophonist, band leader, and creative artist/organizer originally from Oakland but now based in The Netherlands. I had not heard him.
I started searching and eventually bought his one available recording, A Gift From Trane. As my man Kweli well knew, Batamuntu’s music has my name all over it. The composition “Yellow Moon” features Los Angeles poet Kamau Daaood, who is a good friend and comrade. Kamau and I have performed together in New York, Atlanta, and, of course, L.A.
I also tracked down Batamuntu’s website that has four tracks for listening. I include the selection titled “Track 08” on the Mixtape.
Although the West Coast in general and both the Bay Area and L.A., aka La-La Land are usually characterized as multi-cultural melting pots, there is also a strong Afro-Centric music community. And by Afro-Centric I don’t mean Jim Crow, or Crow Jim, or any other kind of racial exclusivity but I do mean a strong emphasis on African-heritage culture and aesthetics, especially high-powered jazz. After all San Francisco is home to the Coltrane Church. Jazz stylings that originated in the sixties still flourishes even if recordings are few and media coverage near nil.
Additionally, there is a strong metaphysical modality at work side by side with aesthetic concerns about spirituality and cosmic orientations.
I am deeply impressed by the ensemble work. Batamuntu is a good composer, a strong woodwind soloist and he really excels as a visionary bandleader. The twenty-plus minutes of “Track 08” reveal an orchestral sweep and musical depth completely lacking on the majority of today’s contemporary jazz recordings.
Assembling a big band is no small feat, and to get them to play at the levels manifested on these selections is astounding. Unless we hit the lottery or have a huge stash of money, some secret endowment, or a hefty trust fund (and I’m pretty sure none of that is the case for Ghasem) most of us wouldn’t even think of taking on the task of putting together a huge production like this. What Ghasem Batamuntu has done is the hard work of organizing people to work together out of love for the music and a commitment to progressive sounds. There is nothing here aimed at BET, MTV or any other mainstream corporate entity. This is music to liberate the mind and sustain an anti-establishment spirit of resistance.
BTW, in this case the “people” working with Ghasem is more than solely the musicians. The people also includes an independent record company who is will to front-in the production costs and who probably will not be able to sell enough records to recoup the initial investment. Part of the way Ghasem’s kind of music is kept out of the mainstream is by the production and marketing costs being so high and mainstream media being reluctant to even publicize the existence of the music. Yes, it’s an uphill struggle but when the music is this beautiful, struggle we must. Kudos to both Ghasem and Tahoe Records.
What I particularly appreciate about this recording is both the sophistication and the high professionalism of the ensemble. And, of equal if not greater importance, this is not just an assemblage of technicians reading tricky charts. Listen to the solos, they are wonderful. Special note to flautist Dadisi Komolafe who is the strongest I have heard on flute since Eric Dolphy. A number of the ensemble players are alumni of Horace Tapscott’s Pan Afrikan Arkestra, and my man Sunship Theus is ‘the’ West Coast trap drummer/percussion monster. Plus, I’ve got to at least mention keyboard maestro Nate Morgan Jr., smoking trombonist Charles Hamilton, and poet deserving of mucho recognition, K. Curtis Lyle (on “Nu Finitude, for Kwa Kwa”).
Hopefully A Gift From Trane will attract more attention and resources to Ghasem Batamuntu. He could use at least two more recordings, and if nothing else make available the four tracks from his website.
So that’s it. Check out this beautiful music. Ghasem Batamuntu is a great find for anybody and everybody to be turned on to. This is invigorating and joyous music. Spread the word, share the beauty.
—Kalamu ya Salaam