Idris Muhammad: Black Rhythm Revolution!

The drummer straddled the transition from 1950s R&B and soul-jazz into jazz fusion, the crossover exemplified in his 1970 debut as leader


Drummer Idris Muhammad ranged wide over the musical territory, starting as a teenager in New Orleans R&B, where he was the drummer on Fats Domino’s hit Blueberry Hill. He graduated in the 1960s to membership of Prestige’s soul-jazz house band – for whom he played on more than 150 recordings – before laying down the heaviest of funk in the 1970s.

Black Rhythm Revolution! was Muhammed’s first solo album, its title referring to the hard-hitting drumming of the time of which Muhammad was such a master.

As befits a music in constant transition, the two sides of this album pull in slightly different directions. The first side looks back to standard Prestige soul-jazz, with Express Yourself laying down some up and fun R&B, Soulful Drums a slow-burner featuring the leader’s emphatic drumming, and James Brown’s Super Bad a punchy workout led by the fine duo of saxophonist Clarence Thomas – he arranged all five songs on the album – and guitarist Melvin Sparks.

The second side looks forward to 70s modal fusion, Muhammad expanding his drum kit to end Wander on tuned tom-toms, and playing a ceremonial log drum from New Guinea in his solo on By The Red Sea. Both pieces were written by Muhammad, proving that drummers can make fine composers.

It is obviously good to have this fine album back in circulation but the sonic quality of this high-quality vinyl release makes it something special. I doubt this album has ever been heard so clearly before.

Express Yourself; Soulful Drums; Super Bad (15.30) – Wander; By The Red Sea (20.00)
Muhammad (d); Virgil Jones (t); Clarence Thomas (ss, ts); Harold Mabern (elp); Melvin Sparks (elg); Jimmy Lewis (elb); Buddy Caldwell (cga). Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 2 November 1970.
Prestige CR00523 LP