Still known as Dollar Brand at the time of this recording, Abdullah Ibrahim had his first encounter with a large ensemble on African Space Program, and the results are quite successful. Despite a muddy sound quality, this is music built on infectious themes and played with verve by a fine cast of instrumentalists. The first part of "Tintiyana," entirely written, is redolent of Ellington and Mingus, all churning low tones and percussion. When the second portion begins, the mood turns celebratory with a striding, gospel-imbued theme supporting heroic solos from all involved. Several of the musicians on hand were generally involved with the avant-garde end of the jazz spectrum at the time, and their playing is full of bite and a risk-taking nature that greatly enlivens the proceedings.
This is one of Abdullah Ibrahim's most colorful band recordings. With a 12-piece group that includes altoist Carlos Ward, trombonist Craig Harris and bassist Cecil McBee along with some lesser-known names, Ibrahim performs eight folklike originals that pay tribute to his life growing up in South Africa. "The Homecoming Song," "Anthem for the New Nation" and especially "The Wedding" (a beautiful hymn) are particularly memorable.
In 1990, Emmylou Harris' run of superb mid-'70s albums was over, and she hadn't yet assembled the Nash Ramblers, the acoustic band that gave her music a heady kick-start prior to her first striking collaboration with Daniel Lanois, Wrecking Ball…
By the time the Brand New Heavies released Shelter in 1997, urban R&B was shifting toward the more organic grooves that they helped pioneer in the early '90s. Although the Heavies were into acid jazz as well, they smoothed over many of the experimental elements of their music in the mid-'90s, leaving behind a seductive, earthy, and jazzy variation of urban soul. That provided the foundation for Shelter, their first album featuring Siedah Garrett as lead singer. Garrett's smooth voice helps push the band toward more conventional territory, yet their songwriting is stronger than most of the contemporaries, and their sound is funkier and more convincing. While there are no standout singles on Shelter, it's a uniformly engaging listen, illustrating that the Brand New Heavies are one of the great underrated urban R&B bands of the '90s.
They've done this in the past, back in the days of 'Masque' and 'Do They Hurt', when where they'll do one or two numbers with a 'steppin' out' rhythm (examples: AWB's 'Pick Up the Pieces' and Janet Jackson's 'What Have You Done For Me Lately'), but fully half of this album has that same quarter note-driven rhythm. It's an interesting mix–that sort of beat behind guitarist Goodsall's crisp tonalities. The track 'Virus' at nearly eight minutes is the longest one they've done in at least fifteen years. This album isn't as minimalist as its predecessor 'Xcommunication', which was based almost entirely on guitar, bass and drums–they use a session keyboarist occasionally, along with some new MIDI-powered synth and sampler tonalities done by Goodsall.