Kamaal Williams: Wu Hen review – jazz-soul revivalist's fitful return

(Black Focus Records)
The London producer is happy to foreground his collaborators on his second solo album, but doesn’t make the most of them

Coming to prominence in 2016 as one half of jazz duo Yussef Kamaal, producer and pianist Kamaal Williams spearheaded the London-based revival of the genre with his dancefloor-focused take on jazz. Yet with only one record released before the pair’s split in 2017, Williams has since struggled to establish his solo sound without the powerhouse drumming of his former partner Yussef Dayes.

Kamaal Williams: Wu Hen album art work

Williams’ solo debut, 2018’s The Return, was laden with funk and west coast references, calling upon the sun-dappled soul of Roy Ayers as much as London broken beat in its jittering 11 tracks. It was a promising, if tentative, first offering, one that lacked the confidence to establish itself beyond the incisive legacy of Yussef Kamaal’s album Black Focus. Wu Hen, Williams’ second full-length, continues in this vein as a pleasing, if unremarkable, listen.

Williams’ strength lies in his production and the foregrounding of his band members, as in the infectious four-to-the-floor funk of Mr Wu, or on the slow build of tracks Toulouse and Pigalle. Here, saxophonist Quinn Mason solos with a burning intensity as the band attacks with a straight-ahead swing. It is a brave and interesting departure from the remainder of the record, which includes the lacklustre balladry of Hold On and the underused talent of strings arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on pensive opener Street Dreams.

Taking on the driving force of 1950s jazz could hold the key to Williams’ independent development – one which would rely on him honing his keyboard skills to convince as a bandleader, rather than just a producer. Until then, Wu Hen plays as yet another approximation of a now-ended and once immensely creative partnership.


Contributor

Ammar Kalia

The GuardianTramp

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