As one half of Yussef Kamaal, Kamaal Williams made his impact on the contemporary UK jazz scene with his keyboard playing on Black Focus.
Two years on and the line-up is different but the sound is similar: the ’70s fusion influences, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers et al, are present and accounted for, the beats can be easygoing or knotty, sometimes over the course of the same song, and performances are on point throughout.
Salaam kicks off the album with watery keys and a groove that starts slow before working itself up to a bustling climax, while Situations (Live In Milan) shows signs of what could be the same structure were it not unfortunately cut off mid-jam. Catch The Loop opens with the most complex rhythms of the album before easing into a syncopated half-time, featuring some drumwork that was surely inspired by the late J Dilla’s head-nodding rap instrumentals.
This more modern influence is also felt in the synths, whether gently wubbing on “High Roller”, squirming their way around a solo on Rhythm Commission or creating a lush atmosphere on closing track Aisha. There is a fascinating circularity to the jazz-funk that spawned many styles in electronic and rap music coming around again, this time taking direction from artists like Kaytranada and Disclosure.
Not everything goes over perfectly: LDN Shuffle never quite justifies its own existence over its five-and-a-half minute run-time, but such noodling can be forgiven to an extent on an album that is more about groove than melody. But most other tracks have a progression that keeps them interesting, giving pieces like Salaam the feeling of a linear, engaging journey.
Overall The Return is a vital addition to both the budding career of Kamaal Williams, and to modern jazz as a whole.