Robin Kenyatta

Gypsy Man

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In 1972, two years after the release of Robin Kenyatta's seminal Girl from Martinique outing for ECM, he signed to Atlantic and released another seminal bit of classy jazz-funk. Gypsy Man, produced by Michael Cuscuna, has a who's-who lineup of players who would be synonymous with the newly emerging subgenre of jazz: drummer Billy Cobham (still a member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the time), percussionist Ralph MacDonald, session drummer Rick Marotta, guitarists Keith Loving and David Spinozza, pianist Larry Willis on Fender Rhodes, bassist Stanley Clarke (who released his own classic debut Children of Forever the same year and played on two of Norman Connors now legendary dates from the period, Dance of Magic and Dark of Light), and more. The music here is polished, but complex and deeply emotive. The opener is a very compelling reading of Gato Barbieri's title theme to "Last Tango in Paris," complete with sighed backing vocals, "Shaft"-style choppy wah-wah guitars, strings, and Kenyatta blowing a slightly edgy alto saxophone with great breaks by Cobham. The Latin percussion in "Another Freight Train" sets its knotty vamp off nicely, as Kenyatta goes right into the melody doing his best King Curtis. It's a Kenyatta tune that melds meat-and-potatoes blowing, fusion-style riffs, and heavy funk. Clarke's fat, in-your-face bassline and the electric six-string's power chords in "Werewolf" prefigure Kenyatta's killer flute break that's worthy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. By contrast, "Reflective Silence," with its Afro-Cuban percussion and Kenyatta's soprano playing, offers a view of the emerging spiritual jazz from the Strata East label. The layers of percussion are Kenyatta's only accompaniment on the cut. Despite the contemporary bent of these first four tracks, Kenyatta tosses listeners a curve ball with his beautifully sweet reading of Stevie Wonder's "Seems So Long," and a drenched-in-Southern soul take on Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember" that closes the set. On the way are a pair of fine originals in the Northern soul-flavored funk of the title track (with vocals by Kenyatta and Lalomie Washburn), and the South African jazz-tinged "Melodie Chinoise," no doubt influenced by the township jazz that was making its way to European and American shores in the music of Abdullah Ibrahim (then known as Dollar Brand), and Hugh Masekela's less pop-oriented affairs, and even the bands of Chris McGregor, Johnny Dyani, and Dudu Pakwana. In sum, of Kenyatta's Atlantic-era recordings, Gypsy Man stands out mightily as one of the great jazz-funk outings of the '70s; it is an all but forgotten jazz classic.

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