The Pharaohs

Awakening

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Absolutely one of the finest funk albums of the early '70s, and one of the most unfairly neglected, 1971's Awakening is as important and exciting as any of Funkadelic's early albums from the same period. It doesn't have the mordant humor of George Clinton's best work, but these seven lengthy tracks are as powerful as early funk gets. A Chicago-based 11-piece ensemble (many members of which would go on to found Earth, Wind & Fire with Maurice White), the Pharaohs were led by their five-man-strong drum section, which included future world jazz pioneer Derf Reklaw and two percussionists specializing in African drumming. This polyrhythmic powerhouse takes center stage on all of the tracks, even the jazzy, ballad-tempo version of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Tracks of My Tears." Every track is a winner, from the purely Afro-centric "Ibo" to the soulful groove of "Freedom Road," but the winner is the 13-and-a-half-minute closer, "Great House," on which the drums and horn section hurry each other along an expansive, loose-limbed groove while guitarist Yehudah Ben Israel unleashes some acid-style guitar solos similar to what Eddie Hazel was doing on tracks like Funkadelic's "Wars of Armageddon." This is as good as Afro-funk gets.

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