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Kamaal Williams - Wu Hen (Album Review)

Kamaal Williams

Wu Hen

24 July 2020

Black Focus

Album Rating 5 / 5

Live Potential 4.5 / 5

Solo Performances 5 / 5

Diversity in Songs 4 / 5

Favourite Songs 1989, Big Rick, Pigalle, Hold On

Kamaal Williams self-styled 'Wu Funk' has just become even sexier with his sublime second album Wu Hen. Backed by a wicked crew of musicians to breath life into the exhibition of his fluid sound of celestial jazz, funk, R&B and house, the album reinforces his status as a visionary of twenty-first century jazz.

Lending to the validity of this statement is the fact that Wu translates to "Gateway to Heaven", seemingly projecting Williams' importance since his birth in providing this future jazz sound to be our own "gateway to heaven", inspiring generations young and old since he rose to prominence with Yussef Kamaal alongside drummer Yussef Dayes.

Having also risen up in the house, electronica and DJ scene under his moniker Henry Wu, this album feels slightly less tinted with prominent synths and his recognisable house sound compared to his 2018 debut The Return. It feels mature and simple with the flow between tracks, as not one song feels lost or added to fill up record. Reflecting on the new record, Williams states:

This is a revolution of the mind. A spiritual rebellion: To reach new heights requires separating ourselves from the material world and finding power in what’s intangible. That’s what music and art is for – whether it’s a primitive emotion or something deep, you feel it. And there’s a subliminal element that resonates throughout my work. If you’re painting, it’s what you’re feeling as you’re painting. And the person looking at that artwork or listening to that music, they can feel it too, because it’s sincere.”

Lead single 'One More Time' has a computer game synth arpeggio leading the way but the funk is layered gradually as the space left by Rick Leon James' bassline and the synths allows Greg Paul's drums to restlessly chop away. The effortless shift into '1989' moves the groove to emphasise a slower feel, a tempo Williams is certainly at his best for creating those dreamy slow jams to bop to. Quinn Mason's saxophone has a warm alluring phrase that is backed by the rush of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's crescendoing strings. The strings effect is beautifully tingling and coupled with Alina Bzhezhinska's harp and Mason's saxophone in 'Street Dreams', the 'spiritual rebellion' of the mind feels tangible.

Lauren Faith's vocals in second single 'Hold On' maintain the deeply transcendent feeling as the strings echo the backing "ooh's" before Bzhezhinska's harp solo trickles out like sweet nectar. This luscious R&B tune makes way for 'Early Prayer' where the voice Mason gives the saxophone is immensely emotive and passionate, with Williams offering just a lofi house humming from his keys to gently change the mood throughout.

A modal jazz sound comes through on 'Toulouse' and 'Pigalle', with the former nudging you to a new ethereal plane with an understated rhythm section allowing the strings and the sax cameo to provide a silky gloss to the tune. 'Pigalle' has a bouncier piano and is amplified by some slick basslines by James with Paul providing a constant swinging energy on the ride. Contrasting to Mason's busy sax improvisation is a delicate solo from Williams as the simplicity of his playing makes these two tunes' more traditional style of jazz seem fresh and not overdone or boring; Coltrane and Lonnie Liston Smith are really channelled here to take you back to 60s.

Photo by Glauco Canalis

The trio of 'Big Rick', 'Save Me' and 'Mr Wu' move easily between each other as the juicy synth and glowing keys makes these reminiscent of Herbie Hancock jazz-funk. These songs nod to his uncanny ability to produce timeless music which never ceases to amaze me; James' phat basslines fill in the spaces with his quick, nimble plucking as Paul's drums and cymbals glide to each stab with purpose. The funk gets harder in the latter half of 'Save Me' before 'Mr Wu' toasts his house alias with more synth wooshing that creates a summery, funky bouncer.

The textures and depth of sound in the whole record ranges from the cinematic and luxurious, to the teeteringly energetic and beat-heavy. No moment is lost, and to my surprise, I did not think the record would sound so complete and interconnected after hearing the singles on their own. It is quite hard to comprehend how innovative but different enough, yet still linked to his style, each of Williams' records under Yussef Kamaal and his two solo albums are.

There is conscious development in his past two full releases since Yussef Kamaal for a new sound on each record, as he always seems to have an unbelievably good knack for writing bangers; they never seem to grow old from relying on his heavy dosage of synth surges that gives space for his talented musicians that accompany him to make the music snap and pop. A classy, sexy record to inspire those still frustrated by lockdown.


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