Monday, October 9, 2006

Mtume: Rebirth Cycle


Third Street Records, TSJ 100. Recorded at Minot Sound, February 1974; Released 1977. Produced by James Mtume. All tracks written and arranged by James Mtume.

Track list
1. Sais
2. Yebo
3. Cabral
4. Body Sounds
5. Umoja

Mtume, congas (track 4), piano (track 2)
Jean Carn, vocals (tracks 1 & 5)
Dee Dee Bridgewater, vocals (track 1)
Tawatha (Agee), vocals (tracks 2 & 5)
Onika, vocals (track 5)
Carol Robinson, vocals (track 5)
Shirley Jenkins, vocals (track 5)
Muktar Mustapha, poet, narration (track 1)
Jimmy Heath, reeds (tracks 1, 3, 5)
Azar Lawrence, reeds (tracks 1, 3, 5)
John Stubblefield, reeds (tracks 1, 3, 5)
Stanley Cowell, piano (tracks 1, 3, 5)
Bayeté, electric piano (track 2)
Reggie Lucas, guitar (tracks 1, 3, 5)
Pete Cosey, guitar (track 2)
Buster Williams, bass (tracks 1, 3, 5)
Cecil McBee, bass (tracks 1, 3, 5)
Michael Henderson, bass (track 2)
Leroy Jenkins, violin (tracks 1, 3, 5)
Dierdre Johnson, cello (tracks 1, 3, 5)
Billy Hart, drums (tracks 1, 3, 5)
Andrei Strobert, drums (tracks 1, 3, 5)
Al Foster, drums (track 2)

Some reviews:
With credits that read like a who's who of early 1970s jazz, Mtume, then with Miles Davis, produced his third solo album, including one cut with the Miles Davis band sans Miles. This album is full of spirituality, Africanisms, and real jazz. "Umoja" even includes invocations to Obatala, Yemaya, and the other deities of the Yoruba religion/Santeria. Fascinatingly, Mtume and Lucas went on to produce funk, and then disco, and then Madonna, all with a trademark conga plus electric guitar sound. There, I always wanted to include Madonna in this website. (Ian Scott Horst)

Rebirth Cycle is an amazing lineup (see Ian's discog listing at for details) whose African roots are clearly breaking the surface. "Sais" is a sidelong cut initiated by a bass clarinet ostinato and textured with dense percussion and multiple voices (Jean Carn, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Tawatha Agee, damn!) and some absolutely penetrating narration. Also included is "Yebo", an electric cut with the Miles '74 players (Cosey, Foster and Henderson) that's more soul-jazz than what the players might suggest, and this weirdo percussion piece called "Body Sounds". [DW -]

Rebirth Cycle, though released in 1977, was actually made in 1974, and the album’s personnel list reads like a veritable who’s-who of the musicians who where working in the more independent jazz scene of the early seventies. Working on this album, you had Dee Dee Bridgewater and Jean Carne on vocals. Strata East players like Cecil McBee and Buster Williams on bass, Stanley Cowell on piano and Jimmy Heath on reeds. This album is also the first introduction to the mighty voice of Tawatha Agee who would remain the co vocalist with the Mtume band right through to the mid eighties.

Musically, Rebirth Cycle is a fusion of afro-centric deep jazz and psychedelic spacey funk. The main piece on here, and the album’s high point, is the side long “Sais” (sigh-us). This 20 plus minute tune starts with the spoken introduction by Senegalese poet Mustapha, explaining the story of “Mystery System of Sais, the Egyptian school of higher learning from which Greek and Western philosophy was developed”. Once the introduction is over one of the most magical and hypnotic musical 20 minutes you could sit through begins. From the slow and haunting bass clarinet solo through crashing waves of vocal chaos plus one almighty guitar solo by Reggie Lucas, all backed by a solid groove that is cut so deep it would be impossible to climb out of, even if you wanted to. There are moments in this piece where the cacophony is such that it feels like you’re consumed in a hypnotic aural cloud, and you find yourself not wanting to come out of it, or at least for the tune not to come to an end. Then the chaos ebbs away, the bass clarinet solo slowly unearths itself from the onslaught of the other instruments and the poetry returns. You then find yourself coming to from this 20 minute musical roller coaster ride, and you cannot help but feel total exhilaration. On Side two of this album the tracks are shorter in length and are much more afro-centric funk in style. The vocal work on this side of the album is truly sublime, whether it is “Yebo” the Oneness Of Juju style groover with magical vocals by Tawatha Agee, the haunting beauty of Jean Carn’s performance on Cabral, or the traditional African nasal style on the closing track “Umoja”. Rebirth Cycle does not contain a weak moment anywhere on the entire recording, and is really worth seeking out a copy.

Download it here.

Like a lot of great underground jazz recordings of the period, this one has never seen a proper release. James Mtume's primary contributions to this album were primarily in the form of production, songwriting and arranging, although he does play on a couple of the tracks. The lyrics are less strident than the previous two albums (Kawaida, and Alkebu-Lan), but still positive and aware. "Sais" is probably the track that most seek out, and at 20 minutes sounds and feels like something straight out of Alkebu-Lan. The remaining tracks are shorter, and vary in sound and texture. "Umoja" and "Cabral" are both lovely, delicate ballads - the first overtly Afrocentric, the second a soul-jazz tune featuring Jean Carn on vocals. "Body Sounds" is a percussion piece that begins with some hand clapping & what sounds like chests being slapped - the echo becomes noticeable as the tune progresses and gives "Body Sounds" an almost psychedelic feel (it's my favorite track from side two). "Yebo" is a more uptempo funk tune that could almost fit in with Miles Davis or The Headhunters (or for that matter Oneness of Juju), and can be viewed as a harbinger of where James Mtume was heading for the remainder of the 1970s.

Updated 10/20/2006 and updated again 11/27/2008.

Download it here.