Peace Warriors
Random Chance Records RCD22

Dating from an interregnum between a late career return to more progressive surroundings and earlier experimental work, PEACE WARRIOR reissues two sessions which add to under-recorded Philadelphia vibraphonist Khan Jamal’s scant discography. It’s too bad the 10 selections couldn’t have more musical meat on the rather lightweight frame.

Born in 1946, by the early 1980s Jamal had already put in time with players like drummer Sunny Murray, fiddler Billy Bang and South African bassist Johnny Dyani. Recently he’s recorded in the company of Free Jazz’s Lower East Side division: pianist Matthew Ship and bassist William Parker.

Still Jamal’s vibes style has never been particularly complex as he demonstrates here. Three quarters of the tunes were a 1989 Stash LP called DON’T TAKE NO! – also the first selection here – the final three are from 1982’s INFINITY. With a coupler of exceptions, all seem to flirt with the beginnings of smooth jazz.

Preferring an unhurried andante tempo, Khan is not the most assertive of players. This tendency towards the lightweight is intensified by the synthesizer and electric piano work of Mark Kramer and Khan’s use of a KAT midi percussion synthesizer on the first two tracks. The second, “Scandinavian Dawn”, has a catchy melody in a Pat Metheny-like style, helped by guitarist Monette Sudler’s comping, but the performance is a little too simple and soothing. Elsewhere, her glossy licks stray a little too often into George Benson territory.

Dates don’t make much difference either. An almost nine-minute run-through of “Nubian Queen”, the vibist’s signature tune, is given a tranquil, low-key reading on one track recorded in 1982. It’s buoyed by a Latinesque backbeat from percussionist Omar Hill and unison theme elaboration from Byard Lancaster’s flute and Khan’s instrument. An echoing example of gentle swing, only Bernard Sammul’s double timing piano licks inject enthusiasm.

The pianist’s own “The Angry Young Man” and “Three for All”, written by the 1989 date’s keyboardist Mark Kramer are the only pulse risers on the set. The later has sluicing vibe textures, single-note accented riffs from the guitarist and cross-patterned drumming from Dwight James. McCoy Tyner-like modal tones from the pianist and high concept walking bass from Reggie Curry give “The Angry Young Man” an agitato stance. Contrapuntal, Sammul’s rough syncopation forces the vibist into quick moving glissandi and portamento.

Other pieces suggest Khan as an enervated Milt Jackson, and even “One For Hamp” lacks the free fore all-out excitement you associate with Lionel Hampton. Notes are half heartedly pummeled, but lack ringing sustain.

Fans of the smooth jazz 1980s and Jamal completists are likely the only market for this disc.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Don't Take No!+ 2. Scandinavian Dawn+ 3. Peaceful Warrior 4. One for Hamp 5. Three For All 6. Hip Out 7. Body and Soul 8. Nubian Queen* 9. Lovely Afternoon* 10. Angry Young Man*

Personnel: Byard Lancaster (alto saxophone and flutes); Khan Jamal (vibraphone, marimba and KAT midi percussion synthesizer+); Mark Kramer (piano and synthesizer); Bernard Sammul* (piano); Monette Sudler (guitar [tracks 1-7]); Warren Otree or Reggie Curry* (bass); Dwight James (drums); Omar Hill* (percussion).