IDRIS ACKAMOOR AND THE PYRAMIDS- SHAMAN!

Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids-Shaman!

Label: Strut.

Nowadays, not many groups are still together after forty-seven years. Many groups call time on their career after three or four albums citing “artistic differences” but are keen to reassure their fans that they’re “still friends” and that the band had “run its course.” This has happened to some of the and most successful and influential bands of the past fifty years. They may eventually consider making a comeback if there’s enough noughts on the cheque but often there’s no chance of that. The damage has been dome and friendships fractured.

Meanwhile, there are still a few bands founded in the seventies that have continued to make music through good times and bad. Some didn’t enjoy the success that their music deserved and it was only later that their music started find a wider audience. This includes cosmic spiritual jazz pioneers Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids who were founded in 1973 and recently, recently released their much-anticipated seventh album Shaman! It’s the latest chapter in a story that began in 1951.

Bruce Baker in was born in 1951, and grew up in Chicago, before moving to Ohio, where he studied at Antioch College, which was where he first encountered jazz pianist Cecil Taylor and became part of his Black Music Ensemble. Cecil Taylor also mentored Idris Ackamoor and watched as his young prodigy dawned the moniker Idris Ackamoor in the early seventies and embarked upon a pan-African adventure as the leader of the Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids. 

The newly christened Idris Ackamoor was a flamboyant musical showman who with The Pyramids who combined music and theatre, and each night, dawned a pharaonic headdress before he took to the stage. What followed was a groundbreaking and genre-melting mixture of music from the cosmic jazz pioneers who played with a freedom and invention as they pushed musical boundaries to their limits.

Lalibela.

In 1973, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids released their debut album Lalibela, on their own label Pyramid Records. By then, the members of Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids were still students at Antioch College when they wrote and recorded Lalibela, which was an ambitious and innovative concept album that documented Idris Ackamoor, Margaux Simmons, and Kimathi Asante’s nine-month African adventure. Lalibela was an innovative fusion of Afrobeat, free jazz, funk and soul which ebbed and flowed as it revealed its many secrets. 

Lalibela included driving rhythms, ritualistic chants, energetic modal jams, meditative tone pieces and improvisations played using traditional African instruments which were augmented by woodwind and horns on an album that was way ahead of its time. Sadly, Lalibela passed critics and record buyers by and it was only much later that critics and record buyer realised the importance of the album.

King Of Kings.

Despite the commercial failure of their debut album Lalibela, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids returned with their sophomore album King Of Kings in 1974. Just like its predecessor, it was an ambitious album and had been inspired by Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ love affair with Africa and African history. There’s also  a spiritual quality to the music on King Of Kings, where chants are  delivered in a call and response style and hypnotic horns join with traditional African instruments, woodwind and piano to create another groundbreaking album.

During King Of Kings, Iris Ackamoor and The Pyramids fuse Afrobeat, free jazz, funk, jazz-funk and soul as they push musical boundaries and create an ambitious and spiritual album. Sadly, history repeated itself and King Of Kings failed to find the audience it deserved. 

While this must have been a disappointment for Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids, their label Pyramid Records neither had budget nor the PR expertise to promote the band’s albums and get them into shops. Instead, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids relied on playing live to spread the word about their music, and introduce it to a new audience. As a result, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids continued to tour widely in the mid-seventies, and by then, they had already toured Africa. However, by then, things were changing for Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids.

By the mid-seventies, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ lineup was fluid, and new musicians were often recruited by the band. The other change was the instruments that Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids played. They had played African instruments on their first two albums, but by November 1975 when Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids began recording Birth/Speed/Merging, they were playing instruments from all over the world. 

Birth/Speed/Merging.

Two years passed before Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids returned in 1976 with their third album Birth/Speed/Merging. It was recorded in November 1975, and side one featured the three-part, twenty-minute Birth/Speed/Merging suite, which was one of the most ambitious pieces of music from Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids had recorded.

On Birth/Speed/Merging there’s a celebratory, carnival sound as  Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids combined the cosmic sounds and free jazz of Sun Ra with Afrobeat, funk, psychedelia and a much more progressive sound. Birth/Speed/Merging was an ambitious, innovative and genre-melting album where Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids played with freedom, fluidity and invention on a carefully crafted album. Sadly, when Birth/Speed/Merging was released the album failed to find the audience it so richly deserved.

In 1977, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids split-up after releasing a trio of underrated and innovative albums that had passed critics and record buyers by. Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids were one of music’s best kept secrets and it looked as if it would stay that way.

Just like many other artists and groups before them, it took a while before the record buying public somewhat belatedly discovered Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ music. It took twenty years before a small but appreciative audience discovered the three albums that Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids had released between 1973 and 1976. Soon, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids had a cult following, and there was a resurgence on interest in their music. 

By then, Idris Ackamoor had released two solo albums 1998s Portrait and 2000s Centurian. This was followed in 2004 by Homage To Cuba in 2004, which was the debut album from the Idris Ackamoor Ensemble. However, the big question was would Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids reunite?

They would, but not until 2010, and soon, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids were making up for lost time. By then, the group’s popularity was growing after the reissue of Lalibela, King Of Kings and Birth/Speed/Merging in 2009. With a new audience discovering Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ music,  embarked upon their comeback tour. 

Little did Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids realise that they would be spending much of the next couple of years on the road, as their popularity grew. With interest in Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids in growing, it was no surprise when they released their comeback album Otherworldly in 2012. 

Otherworldly.

Otherworldly was released by Cultural Odyssey as part of the Living Legacy Project, and just like the triumvirate of albums Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids had released between 1973 and 1976 was a pioneering and experimental album. Elements of avant-garde, free jazz  and space-age featured on Otherworldly which was released to plaudits and praise and was Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ first album in thirty-six years.

We Be All Africans.

Despite releasing their comeback album and continuing to tour, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids didn’t release another album for four long years. However, Idris Ackamoor was still recording and releasing albums with two new musical projects. In 2014, the Idris Ackamoor Paris Quartet’s released their debut album The Periphery Of The Periphery and The Collective released Idrissa’s Dream. However, two years later, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids were back with a new album.

This was We Be All Africans which was Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ fifth album, and their first album for Strut. We Be All Africans was released in May 2016 and was a quite different album from Otherworldly. It was a fusion of Afrobeat, free jazz and jazz-funk from the spiritual cosmic jazz pioneers, which was released to critical acclaim and set the bar high for the followup.

An Angel Fell.

Two years later, in May 2018 Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids returned with their much-anticipated sixth album An Angel Fell. The eight tracks on An Angel Fell were penned by bandleader Idris Ackamoor and were produced by Malcolm Catto of The Heliocentrics. However, it was a very different lineup of  The Pyramids that accompanied Idris Ackamoor during the recording of An Angel Fell at Quatermass studios in London.

Just one member of The Pyramids returned for the recording of An Angel Fell. This was violinist Sandra Poindexter who made her debut on We Be All Africans. She was joined by a new lineup  of The Pyramids. They spent just one week recorded An Angel Fell and were the perfect foil for Idris Ackamoor on this thought-provoking album.

Idris Ackamoor explains: “I wanted to use folklore, fantasy and drama as a warning bell…“The songs explore global themes that are important to me and to us all: the rise of catastrophic climate change and our lack of concern for our planet, loss of innocence and separation…but positive themes too, the healing power of music, collective action and the simple beauty of nature.” These songs are part of what’s one of the most eclectic albums of Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ long career.

Just like Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ previous albums, free jazz is at the heart of An Angel Fell. Especially the free jazz of two of its founding father’s Pharaoh Sanders and Sun Ra which seems to have influenced Idris Ackamoor as a saxophonist and bandleader. There’s also elements of Afro-Cuban, dub reggae, hip hop, psychedelia and rock on An Angel Fell, which ebbs and flows revealing everything from beautiful ballads to soul-baring vocals and intrepid free jazz workouts. 

An Angel Fell finds the latest lineup of Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids rolling back the years on what was tthe most eclectic album of their forty-five year career. It features music that is beautiful,  poignant, and ruminative, and Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids incorporating folklore, fantasy, drama and social comment on this thought-provoking album

Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids-Shaman!

Buoyed by the success of An Angel Fell, Idris Ackamoor began work on the followup which would eventually become Shaman! He decided that Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ seventh album would be very different to its predecessor.

Idris Ackamoor decided to move away from the political and social commentaries that featured on An Angel Fell. This time, the music would be much more personal and introspective: “I wanted to use this album to touch on some of the issues that we all face as individuals in the inner space of our souls and our conscience…The album unfolds over four Acts with personal musical statements about love and loss, mortality, the afterlife, family and salvation.” 

These four acts feature nine tracks, and eight of them written were by Idris Ackamoor. Act I: Fire Rites Of Penance features Shaman! and Tango Of Love while Act II: A Glimpse Of Eternity included Eternity When Will I See You Again? Then Act III: Upon Whose Shoulders We Stand includes Salvation and Theme For Cecil while Act IV: 400 Years: The Clotilda includes Virgin, The Last Slave Ship and Dogon Mysteries which was written by Pyramids’ guitarist Bobby Cobb. He was part of another new lineup of The Pyramids when recording of Shaman! began.

Joining The Pyramids’ were drummer Gioele Pagliaccia, bassist Ruben Ramos Medina and percussionist Jack Yglesias. They were joined by guitarist Bobby Cobb, violinist and vocalist Sandra Poindexter who had played on An Angel Fell. Making a welcome return was one of the original members of The Pyramids flautist Dr. Margaux Simmons. Idris Ackamoor played synths, alto and tenor saxophone during the sessions at Quatermass Studio which was owned by producer Malcolm Catto who also mixed the album. When it was completed it was scheduled for release during the summer of 2020. 

Just like previous albums, a central feature of Shaman! is Idris Ackamoor’s intricate compositions. He showcases his compositional skills on an album that features nine expansive and lengthy pieces where Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids fuse Afro-funk, free jazz and muscular funk with jazz, soul and even elements of Afrobeat, blues, dub, fusion, hip hop, jazz-funk, Latin  and rock as they take the listener on a journey where they experience  powerful, poignant, ruminative and thought-provoking music. It’s music that will toy with the listeners emotions and moods during a four act, nine song journey that lasts seventy-six captivating minutes and is a mixture of music and theatre. 

Opening the album is Shaman! a twelve minute epic about a failed love affair. A chiming guitar, cooing, soulful harmonies and wistful flute accompany Idris Ackamoor’s hurt-filled soliloquy. There’s a great deal of soul-searching as he ruminates and reflects wondering what went wrong? Later, gypsy violins briefly combine with a sultry saxophone as the arrangement heads in the direction of jazz-funk, fusion, Afrobeat and free jazz. Angst and masculine vulnerability are there for all to see and hear during this soul-baring, genre-melting opus which sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

The second part of Act I: Fire Rites Of Penance is Tango Of Love. Initially, it’s very different from the opening track as it breezes and dances along before becoming dark, dramatic and ruminative as if love has gone wrong again.

On Eternity the band explore the subject of timeless existence. While the saxophone and flute play an important parts, it’s Sandra Poindexter’s violin that plays a starring role. It veers between emotive,  haunting, beautiful and ruminative during this powerful and thought-provoking track.

Idris Ackamoor was inspired to write When Will I See You Again? after mass shootings in America. The lyrics deal with the subjects of mortality and the danger of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” It’s a powerful and poignant track especially the way Idris Ackamoor combines drama and emotion as he sings: “young and old die before their time a smile turns to grief…a mother’s gone a sister too a brother a father a dear friend who you saw one moment next one gone.” Since the onset of the Covid 19 virus the title and some of the lyrics to this powerful song have taken on new meaning and poignancy.

Then on Salvation Idris Ackamoor pays homage to his ancestors as he plays his tenor saxophone with power, passion and emotion. Initially, he’s accompanied by the flute but soon takes centrestage as he unleashes a powerful and impassioned performance. Later, and like all good bandleaders he lets others shine and violinist Sandra Poindexter gives a virtuoso performance and play a part in the sound and success of this poignant homage.

Theme For Cecil is Idris Ackamoor’s homage to the man who was musical mentor, Cecil Taylor. He met the pioneering free jazz pianist when he was studying at Antioch College and became part of his part of his Black Music Ensemble. There’s no doubt that Cecil Taylor has been a major influence on Idris Ackamoor and proof if any is needed is the angular Theme For Cecil a stunning tribute to a giant of free jazz. It features some of Idris Ackamoor’s finest saxophone playing and Dr. Margaux Simmons’ flute provides the perfect foil.

Virgin is best described as an anthem of forgiveness, and deals not just with new beginnings but also self healing. It’s also a musical journey that gradually reveals its secrets, subtleties and nuances. The arrangement is slightly dubby, jazz-tinged, percussive and mesmeric as it meanders along the tempo rising and becoming soulful and celebratory. 

On The Last Slave Ship Idris Ackamoor remembers The Clotilda which was the last ship to transport slaves from Africa to America. This was in 1860 just 160 years ago. It’s tragic to think that people were bought and sold and transported halfway around the world to a foreign country faraway from their family and friends. This is a sobering reminder of a what was a shameful period in history. 

Dogon Mysteries closes Shaman! and it’s a case of saving one of the best tracks until last. That’s apparent from the opening bars. What follows is a hypnotic, hook-laden track where blues and jazz combine seamlessly. It’s the perfect way to close the album.

Shaman! finds Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids have picking up where they left off on An Angel Fell. It’s another carefully crafted album of genre-melting music where the latest lineup of the band switch between and fuse Afro-funk, free jazz and muscular funk, jazz, soul and even elements of Afrobeat, blues, dub, fusion, hip hop, jazz-funk, Latin and rock. This they do seamlessly on what’s the seventh album of Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ career.

I

Just like previous albums, a central feature of Shaman! is Idris Ackamoor’s intricate compositions. He showcases his compositional skills on an album that features nine expansive and lengthy pieces where Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids fuse Afro-funk, free jazz and muscular funk with jazz, soul and even elements of Afrobeat, blues, dub, fusion, hip hop, jazz-funk, Latin  and rock as they take the listener on a journey where they experience  powerful, poignant, ruminative and thought-provoking music. It’s music that will toy with the listeners emotions and moods during a four act, nine song journey that lasts seventy-six captivating minutes and is a mixture of music and theatre. 

Opening the album is Shaman! a twelve minute epic about a failed love affair. A chiming guitar, cooing, soulful harmonies and wistful flute accompany Idris Ackamoor’s hurt-filled soliloquy. There’s a great deal of soul-searching as he ruminates and reflects wondering what went wrong? Later, gypsy violins briefly combine with a sultry saxophone as the arrangement heads in the direction of jazz-funk, fusion, Afrobeat and free jazz. Angst and masculine vulnerability are there for all to see and hear during this soul-baring, genre-melting opus which sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

The second part of Act I: Fire Rites Of Penance is Tango Of Love. Initially, it’s very different from the opening track as it breezes and dances along before becoming dark, dramatic and ruminative as if love has gone wrong again.

On Eternity the band explore the subject of timeless existence. While the saxophone and flute play an important parts, it’s Sandra Poindexter’s violin that plays a starring role. It veers between emotive,  haunting, beautiful and ruminative during this powerful and thought-provoking track.

Idris Ackamoor was inspired to write When Will I See You Again? after mass shootings in America. The lyrics deal with the subjects of mortality and the danger of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” It’s a powerful and poignant track especially the way Idris Ackamoor combines drama and emotion as he sings: “young and old die before their time a smile turns to grief…a mother’s gone a sister too a brother a father a dear friend who you saw one moment next one gone.” Since the onset of the Covid 19 virus the title and some of the lyrics to this powerful song have taken on new meaning and poignancy.

Then on Salvation Idris Ackamoor pays homage to his ancestors as he plays his tenor saxophone with power, passion and emotion. Initially, he’s accompanied by the flute but soon takes centrestage as he unleashes a powerful and impassioned performance. Later, and like all good bandleaders he lets others shine and violinist Sandra Poindexter gives a virtuoso performance and play a part in the sound and success of this poignant homage.

Theme For Cecil is Idris Ackamoor’s homage to the man who was musical mentor, Cecil Taylor. He met the pioneering free jazz pianist when he was studying at Antioch College and became part of his part of his Black Music Ensemble. There’s no doubt that Cecil Taylor has been a major influence on Idris Ackamoor and proof if any is needed is the angular Theme For Cecil a stunning tribute to a giant of free jazz. It features some of Idris Ackamoor’s finest saxophone playing and Dr. Margaux Simmons’ flute provides the perfect foil.

Virgin is best described as an anthem of forgiveness, and deals not just with new beginnings but also self healing. It’s also a musical journey that gradually reveals its secrets, subtleties and nuances. The arrangement is slightly dubby, jazz-tinged, percussive and mesmeric as it meanders along the tempo rising and becoming soulful and celebratory. 

On The Last Slave Ship Idris Ackamoor remembers The Clotilda which was the last ship to transport slaves from Africa to America. This was in 1860 just 160 years ago.   

It’s tragic to think that people were bought and sold and transported halfway around the world to a foreign country faraway from their family and friends. This is a sobering reminder of a what was a shameful period in history. 

Dogon Mysteries closes Shaman! and it’s a case of saving one of the best tracks until last. That’s apparent from the opening bars. What follows is a hypnotic, hook-laden track where blues and jazz combine seamlessly. It’s the perfect way to close the album.

Shaman! finds Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids have picking up where they left off on An Angel Fell. It’s another carefully crafted album of genre-melting music where the latest lineup of the band switch between and fuse Afro-funk, free jazz and muscular funk, jazz, soul and even elements of Afrobeat, blues, dub, fusion, hip hop, jazz-funk, Latin and rock. This they do seamlessly on what’s the seventh album of Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ career.

It features four acts that deals with subjects that include: “love and loss, mortality, the afterlife, family and salvation.” They’re part of Shaman! a musical journey that affects the listener’s mood and emotions. That isn’t surprising as the music is powerful and poignant and sometimes is ruminative and encourages reflection. Other times it is beautiful, soulful and celebratory and offers hope for the future. However, Shaman! is also an album of cerebral and thought-provoking music and is an emotional roller coaster from the latest lineup of Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids who once again reach new heights with their latest opus.

Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids-Shaman!

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