Album review: Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids – An Angel Fell (Strut)

Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids

A large scale recording with lots of rich tone and atmosphere

Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids are something of a new old stock band, originally formed in 1972 they released three albums in that decade then disappeared. Two years ago they reappeared with the well received We all be Africans and with An Angel Fell they have hit their stride in no uncertain fashion. It’s an unusual story centred around Ackamoor, a multi-instrumentalist who prefers the saxophone and who having been mentored by pianist Cecil Taylor in his early days took spiritual journey to Ghana in 1972 where he discovered the music that clearly influenced his work today. The Pyramids include a violin player, percussionist and keyboards and top notch rhythm section, the sound they make is strangely compelling. Ackamoor’s sax playing is reminiscent of Pharoah Saunders albeit only occasionally as intense as he was at his peak, but then again most musicians have mellowed by their late seventies.

The album kicks off with African rhythms from whence the horn emerges to lead the voyage, take the helm and forge into new territories, well new ish. It’s the combination of African and American jazz styles that makes it sound different, those familiar with Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane will feel quite at home. Ackamoor’s tenor has a dry raspy sound that honks its coarse message with little regard for aesthetic niceties, he comes on strong but remains at one with the vibe and the juicy bass line that is its undercurrent.

The title track sees mixed voices singing in a style reminiscent of Zappa in the sixties as things start to branch out into the cosmos as created by Sun Ra. But as this is a contemporary recording the sound quality is a lot better than anything that particular Martian ever made. There are strange noises under the sax from congas, Handsonic (a digital percussion instrument) double bass and guitar plus the introduction of the bands USP, Sandra Poindexter’s violin. It’s an unusual context for the instrument but it sweeps and saws in a fashion that’s at one with the overall theme and seems a natural fit.

Land of Ra combines a dub bassline, reverberant guitar and an ecologically oriented song about saving the planet into which the saxophone slides with complete ease. I don’t recall hearing reggae sax before but in the hands of Ackamoor it’s a perfect pairing. Like most of the album this tune is so unhurried that you can’t help but relax and drink in the atmosphere produced by a large scale recording with lots of rich tone and detail. An Angel Fell was recorded in London by Malcolm Catto of the Heliocentrics, a man of consummate taste if this and his own releases are any indication.

Papyrus has a much lighter vibe with pizzicato guitar, more violin and horn harmonising and an open airy feel that’s appealingly chilled. It could a perfect summer hit if the weather gets hot enough and national tastes were liberated. The follow up, Soliloquy for Michael Brown, sees some impassioned saxophone that sums up Ackamoor’s feelings about that particular police gunning. More so than the come back album An Angel Fell reveals just how good a musician and composer Ackamoor is, this is soul jazz in the old style that’s brought up to date with a new sound and a modern context. On the surface it’s a relaxed and great-sounding release but there’s plenty of depth if you pay attention…

Jason Kennedy

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