Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mtume: Kawaida

Kawaida is an interesting and problematic recording. The problematic element is whom to credit as band leader. At various points it's been credited to Albert Heath (or at the time Kuumba Toudie Heath - see album art above) and Herbie Hancock (on one of the CD reissues from the 1990s). Over at the Kozmigroov connection and at Jazz Supreme it's been suggested that the album really should be credited to Albert Heath's nephew, James Mtume.

According to The Kozmigroov Connection, the album was first issued on a label called O'Be in 1970. The album was also issued by a label called Trip Records. According to, in 1976 the album was issued under Herbie Hancock's name on a label called GB (catalog # 22008). Twenty years later, the album was issued on cd, again under Herbie Hancock's name (simply titled The Jazz Masters) on an Italian label called the Folio Collection. To my knowledge, it's currently out of print. Every once in a while the album shows up on ebay - usually fetching around $30-$35 (I obtained my copy for about $5 from some merchant who had no idea that this was some sort of Holy Grail recording among underground jazzheads).

Confused? Maybe one day we'll get the lowdown. I won't hold my breath.

There's no doubt that the album was a Heath family joint, with Albert (Mtume's uncle) handling the drum set, Jimmy (Mtume's dad) handling the sax chores, and Mtume contributing the fine conga playing and spoken word. Mtume wrote four of the five tunes (Baraka, Kamili, Maulana, and Kawaida), with Albert contributing the other tune (Dunia). The list of musicians is certainly impressive, and includes a number of heavyweights outside the Heath family, such as Ed Blackwell, Herbie Hancock, & Don Cherry.

The music speaks for itself, and can be characterized as having a distinct modal, percussive, cosmic feel to it. The first two tracks, the mid-tempo "Baraka" & and the slower "Kamili" are pleasant modal, soulful jams that fit in quite well with what was going on in the immediate post-Coltrane era. Herbie Hancock get's featured front and center on both tracks and sounds right at home with the music - it fits in (minus the electronics) with Hancock's Sextant recordings of the late 1960s & early 1970s (you could also easily play these tunes alongside of just about anything from McCoy Tyner's excellent album Asante). Just check out the opening of "Baraka" - Herbie gives the session a profound and haunting beginning. "Dunia" (Albert Heath's tune) is the closest the album comes to free jazz - that track features Don Cherry's trumpet very prominently, and the whole crew kicks out the jams and sets the studio on fire. If the first two tracks put you into a meditative trance, "Dunia" will wake you right back up. The final two numbers, "Maulana" and "Kawaida" are where we hear the roadmap for Mtume's subsequent jazz explorations - both numbers are contemplative, percussion-laden, and include spoken-word statements with a distinctly Black Nationalist message (especially on the final track, "Kawaida"). The vibe is very positive, spiritual, and nothing short of revolutionary. The mix of musicians is just right (these cats were all on the same wavelength for this session) - there isn't a weak moment on this record. If you've been digging on the other stuff I've shared so far, don't miss this one!

As Ian Scott Horst of Jazz Supreme sez:
Capsule Info: Not wanting to fork out $40 for a used copy I've settled for a taped dupe. This is more properly, I'm told, Albert's son [editor's note: Mtume is Jimmy Heath's son; Albert Heath is Mtume's uncle] Mtume's first album, and certainly it bears his percussive, and declaratively African nationalist stamp all over it: it's the prequel to Mtume's own ALKEBU-LAN, LAND OF THE BLACKS. It's a great album, with Herbie Hancock at the height of his jazz playing, swahili invocations, lots of percussion, and a deep spiritual vibe throughout.

1. Baraka (13:12)
2. Kamili (5:48)
3. Dunia (8:29)
4. Maulana (9:45)
5. Kawaida (7:39)

Note that the track listing here is from the CD version: the order on the original LP version appears to have been different.


Ed Blackwell - Bells & Percussion
Billy Bonner (Fundi) - Flute, Percussion (track 5 only)
Don Cherry (Msafari) - Trumpet
Herbie Hancock (Mwandishi) - Piano
Albert "Toudie" Heath (Kuumba)- Drums & Percussion
Jimmy Heath (Tayari) - Sax (Soprano), Sax (Tenor)
Mtume - Conga, Voice
Buster Williams (Mchezaji) - Bass

Recorded December 11, 1969. Produced by O'Be Productions. Recorded at The Universe, and Mastered at Town Sound Studios. Released 1970 on O'Be Records, catalogue number OB-301. Trip Records release is catalogue number TLP-5032. Liner notes on the O'Be Records edition written by Amiri Baraka.

Ripped from cd, 192 kbps.

Download it here.

Updated 10/20/2006 and 11/28/2008

Download it here.