Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: Afro Futuristic Dreams

Ackamoor presents a political message but above all his Sun Ra, Parliament and Funkadelic redolent big band brings the fun back into jazz

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The long-running Pyramids, regularly formed and reformed since their birth in the early 1970s, return yet again with another speculative, sprawling, expansive epic, this one exploring the past, the future and the urgent reality of the present with more than a few nods to science fiction.

Produced by leader Ackamoor alongside Malcolm Catto – famed for his work with Madlib and Melvin Van Peebles, among others – this new album is self-described as a “new journey in African-American consciousness”, engaging as it does in “commentary pertaining to celebrating the life and death of ancestors, institutional racism, police brutality and the traversing of hazy psychedelia”. So, not much going on here, then.

But, of course, there is. With some of the tracks featuring up to 12 musicians, this is an album from a great big band in action, dominated by the slow rasp of Ackamoor’s saxophones in Pharoah Sanders style, the evocative flute of Margaux Simmons, whose counterpoint to Ackamoor recalls the inexorable, buoyant roll perfected by Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson, and of course the massed ranks of strings, percussion and drums. Bobby Cox’s electric guitar adds some necessary raunch, offset by the vocal chants that inevitably bring Sun Ra’s Arkestra to mind. But to my mind, the main comparison is with George Clinton’s Parliament or Funkadelic, their exuberant mayhem of rhythm and controlled chaos sweeping everything along in its path.

It’s impossible not to smile when listening to this set, not to be cheered up by its uplifting anthems and funky excursions, its expansions into space and its earthbound majesty. I’m sure the messages within are powerful and meaningful, but above all, this is a set that brings the fun back into jazz. With cover artwork reminiscent of Mati Klarwein at his finest, this set can do no wrong.


Discography
LP1: Afro Futuristic Dreams; Thank You God (18.48) – Police Dem; First Peoples (16.25)
LP2: Truth To Power; Re-Memory; Garland Rose; (19.36) – Requiem For The Ancestors; Nice It Up (14.08)
Ackamoor (ts, as, p, f, keytar, mbira, didgeridoo, bells, pc, v); Aaron Priskom (t); Greg Stephens (tb); Sandra Poindexter (vn, v); Vincent Tolliver (vla); Laura Boytz (clo); Margaux Simmons (f, v); Bobby Cobb (elg, thumb pv); Ruben Ramos Medina (elb); Heshima Mark Williams (b); Brodie Speller (cga, pc, handsonic); Ben Maddox (kyb); George Hurst, John Nataro, (d); Ernesto Marichales (d, cgs, pc); Daria Nile, Queen Califia (v). London, San Francisco, Vermont, February–April 2022.
Strut Records STRUT312LP