Five full albums from the legendary Black Fire label – a DC-based imprint that was home to a heck of a lot of knowledge and power back in the 70s! First up is Live At The East – a never-issued performance by the legendary spiritual jazz group Juju – the genre-crossing combo who'd later expand to the full Oneness Of Juju ensemble! This set captures the group in more avant formation than their later funky records – more clearly tied to a late Coltrane inspiration, but with some of the energy of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago and other creative improvisational groups – especially in the way the members of the lineup seem to effortlessly shift instruments over the course of the long tunes on the set! The vibe is very similar to the Juju albums on Strata East – and this set might be thought of as a chapter three to those two records – with a lineup that features the mighty Plunky Nakabinde on tenor, soprano, flute, and percussion – plus Al Hammel Rasul on piano, Lon Moshe on vibes and percussion, Ken Shabala on bass, and Babatunde and Jalango on percussion and vocals too. Titles include "Black Experience", "Struggle Home", "At Least We Have A Horizon Now", and "Soledad Brothers". Next is Chapter Two – the rare second album from Juju – the avant jazz collective who'd later morph into funk band Oneness Of Juju, but who still sound pretty revolutionary here! There's a bit more focus than before – still energy that's a lot like the best righteous jazz groups coming out of Chicago or St Louis at the same time, but maybe a bit more direct, too – and really showing some of the stronger spiritual tones that would only blossom more strongly in later years! Reedman Plunky Nakabinde is firmly at the helm of the group – on tenor, flute, and soprano sax – but the set also features great work from Lon Moshe on vibes and percussion, Babatunde on congas and drums, Phil Branch on bass, and Al-Hammond Raul on piano and percussion. The sounds are a bit less Afro-styled than on the Oneness records, but still have all the great spiritual currents – and titles include an excellent version of Pharoah Sanders' "Black Unity", plus the original tunes "Contradiction","Nia", "Black Experience", and "The End Of The Butterfly King". On the next record, the group shifts into the new name Oneness Of Juju, and delivers African Rhythms – a landmark of 70s Afro-styled jazz – and the first album by this famous underground collective! Oneness of Juju were a Washington DC-based group that grew out of the ashes of the Juju avant jazz ensemble – formed in the culturally rich African-American community of DC in the 70s, with spiritual and political aspirations that stretched far beyond the average funky combo. This first album is a masterful blend of percussion, jazz, and a slight bit of funk – alternating vocal tracks with harder-hitting jazz instrumentals, all held together under the leadership of sax player Plunky Nakabinde – a reedman whose work here alone is worth the price of admission – laid out nicely alongside some great percussion, Fender Rhodes, and wonderfully worm vocals on a few tracks. The album's one of the greatest independent soul jazz albums of the 70s – and it's filled with great tracks, such as the breakbeat
classic "African Rhythms" and "Liberation Dues" – plus "Kazi", "Funky Wood", "Don't Give Up", "Poo Too", and "Incognito". The group returns on Space Jungle Luv – a fantastic record from one of the greatest underground jazz groups of the 70s! Oneness of Juju are perhaps best known for the heavy funk of their first album, African Rhythms – but we're actually partial to this second album – a warmly spiritual batch of soul jazz tracks, and a set that's filled with life, emotion, and wonderful instrumentation throughout! The group are a bit more relaxed overall – easing into things, but in a way that really builds up as the album moves on – as they layer together heavy percussion, sweet keyboards, and lots of great sax solos from Plunky Nakabinde – plus wonderfully warm vocals that add a soulful edge the group never had before, but which still is very jazzy – and not like the funky club of later years. The whole thing's wonderfully cohesive, and a treasure throughout – and titles include the warm vocal number "River Luvrite", to the harder hitting "Space Jungle Funk", and other gems like "Soul Love Now", "Follow Me", "The Connection", and "Love's Messenger". Lastly, Experience Unlimited serve up a wonderfully spiritual album – and one that's maybe a bit of a surprise, given the later fame of the group! The group here is billed by their full name – Experience Unlimited – but where later known to most of the world as EU, the DC funk outfit that went onto become pretty big
in the GoGo scene, and who scored big
with the 80s party cut "Da Butt". Yet as a classic album on the Black Fire label, this record is nothing like their 80s material at all – and instead catches the group when they were part of a more spiritual scene, the same DC one that gave the world Oneness Of Juju and the larger family of Black Fire artists! This album has the group very much in a mid 70s Earth Wind & Fire mode – jamming hard and free, with plenty of electric guitar riffing, funky keyboards, horns, and lots of percussion. Some tracks have vocals, and some are instrumentals – but the whole thing's an extremely unified album with a great overall vibe – and a message to match the title and the cover. Titles include "Functus", "Free Yourself", "Hey You", "It's All Imagination", and "Funk Consciousness".
(Five full records, each with individual cover art and booklets – all in a slipcover!)