Idris Muhammad Black Rhythm Revolution! (Prestige 1971)

Laying down a propulsive groove was Idris Muhammad’s specialty. Funk jazz galore on the drummer’s debut as a leader, Black Rhythm Revolution!.

Idris Muhammad - Black Rhythm Revolution!


Idris Muhammad (drums), Virgil Jones (trumpet), Clarence Thomas (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Harold Mabern (electric piano), Melvin Sparks(guitar), Jimmy Lewis (bass), Buddy Caldwell (congas)


on November 2, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as PR 10005 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Express Yourself
Soulful Drums
Side B:
By The Red Sea

Idris Muhammad, formerly known as Leo Morris, wasn’t your average jazz drummer. To understand what Muhammad was about, it is best to describe him as a New Orleans drummer. It might not exactly explain why Muhammad became the penultimate jazz funkateer whose probing beat was a deciding factor in the artistic and commercial succes of the soul and funk jazz albums that rolled off the assembly line of Blue Note and Prestige in the late sixties and early seventies, which in my book comprise the lasting legacy of the drummer. But this way of looking at Muhammad does account for his versatility and eclectic career path.

Born in a family of brothers and a sister who all played drums, the young Leo Morris was fascinated by the Mardi Gras parades at an early age and would come to play professionally in marching bands at age nine. The Morris family was friends with the Neville family, that hardcore tribe of New Orleans Funk, and Leo was part of the Hawkettes, Art and Cyril Neville’s early incarnation of the legendary The Meters. Muhammad is the drummer on Fats Domino’s world-wide smash hit Blueberry Hill. At age sixteen! The promising drummer also gained experience performing and recording with Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler, Eddie Bo, Earl King, Lloyd Price, Larry Williams, King Curtis and Curtis Mayfield. Later in his career, Muhammad worked with Roberta Flack, George Benson and John Scofield. Nice resume, aye? Might not get you through math, but opens doors standing in front of St. Peter Of Soul.

It gets better. Jazz was a part of Muhammad’s upbringing early on, yet fully came to the fore during his stay in New York in the early sixties, when he gigged with Roland Kirk, Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. His meeting with Lou Donaldson was a game changer. Lou Donaldson’s recording of Alligator Boogaloo in 1967, with Idris Muhammad on drums, set a trend of funky jazz with a hip, solid beat to it. The rest, as they say, is funk jazz history. Muhammad – who had converted to the muslim faith in the mid-sixties, appeared on subsequent Lou Donaldson albums as Midnight Creeper and Everything I Play Is Funky, Rusty Bryant’s Soul Liberation, Grant Green’s Carryin’ On, Charles Earland’s Black Talk!, Lonnie Smith’s Turning Point and many more commercially and artistically viable funk jazz albums.

1974’s more slick Power Of Soul on Kudu turned Muhammad into a hit maker (the hit, Loran’s Dance, eventually was sampled by the Beastie Boys on Paul’s Boutique, in fact, Muhammad’s beats are all over the place in hiphop territory) and, to Muhammad’s astonishment, a disco king in the late seventies/early eighties. Simultaneously, Muhammad recorded prolifically and performed for years with adventurous contemporaries as Pharaoh Sanders (The B-side of Sanders’ 1968 album Jewels Of Thought, called Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah gives you an idea of their mutual interests and passions…) and, later in life, the virtuosic and innovating pianist Ahmad Jamal. Muhammad passed away on July 29, 2014 at the age of seventy-four.

If not exactly a revolution – let’s just reserve that term for the drum innovations of Kenny Clarke that shifted the jazz landscape from swing to bop in the late forties – Muhammad’s drum style was an important force in the late sixties return of jazz to a danceable vibe. The momentum that Muhammad develops during the course of a tune is crazy. Also very striking are Muhammad’s resourceful and greasy rolls, pushing and pulling his bandmates into ambiences they were heretofore unacquainted with. The guys on Black Rhythm Revolution! are infected by the joyful motion of Muhammad, with no antidote in sight. It might lack a soloist with the flair and experience of Lou Donaldson, but trumpeter Virgil Jones, in particular, shines through as a lively, hot player. A tight-knit outfit, Muhammad, bassist Jimmy Lewis and pianist Harold Mabern – heard on electric piano here – turn in a luscious slow drag like Express Yourself, the basic blues line Soulful Drums, a vehicle for Muhammad’s gritty improvisations, and the roaring, uptempo mover Wander. James Brown’s Superbad is as baaaaadass as it can get. Black Rhythm Revolution! is a badass album and delicious proof of Idris Muhammad’s unique style of drumming.

Charles Earland Black Talk (Prestige 1970)

The single from the session that spawned organist Charles Earland’s album Black Talk, a cover of the Spiral Staircase’s More Today Than Yesterday, was a big hit on black radio stations. Subsequently, Black Talk became one of Prestige’s best-selling albums. As far as organ and soul jazz goes, it is hard to find an album that keeps the energy level so enormously charged from start to finish.

Charles Earland - Black Talk


Charles Earland (organ), Houston Person (tenor saxophone), Virgil Jones (trumpet), Melvin Sparks (guitar), Idris Muhammad (drums), Buddy Caldwell (congas)


on December 15, 1969 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as PR 7758 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
Black Talk
The Mighty Burner
Here Comes Charlie
Side B:
More Today Than Yesterday

Mainly responsible for Black Talk’s unstoppable vibe are Earland and quintessential soul jazz drummer Idris Muhammad. They shared duties in Lou Donaldson’s group and played on Say It Loud! and Hot Dog and would continue to play together on Everything I Play Is Funky. Apparently, recording Black Talk had been satisfactory, because the complete line-up of Black Talk minus Houston Person would record together six months later on saxophonist Rusty Bryant’s Soul Liberation.

Even a relatively lithe shuffle as More Today Than Yesterday is charged with remarkable energy. Earland’s driving solo is a highlight of the album, containing a string of coherent, funky statements. Another (famous) pop song, The Fifth Dimension’s Aquarius, also has guts, drive and a deeply groovy solo by Earland, as well as quietly thunderous bits by Virgil Jones. Jones strikes me as a very knowledgeable and pleasantly buoyant trumpeter.

Here Come Charlie is a Lou Donaldson-type boogaloo that evolves into a spirited piece of soul jazz, courtesy of Earland’s and Muhammad’s amazingly tight, dynamic interplay. Houston Person delivers a particularly hot solo. The Mighty Burner is a concise, swinging uptempo tune. Earland shows why he deserved the nickname of the tune’s title, ‘The Mighty Burner’.

The title track, loosely based on The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, is blessed with a firecracker beat of Idris Muhammad that kicks the listener out of his chair. Earland and the group pick up on it and groove deeply, with the exception of Melvin Sparks, who delivers a cumbersome opposition of a story. He’s better on More Today Than Yesterday, leaving out blurred, cheap frills and instead succinctly making lines meet. One thing in favor of Sparks, the guitarist possesses an individual, quirkily funky style.

Style is written all over Charles Earland’s Black Talk. Meaning repertoire consisting of hot funky originals and wonderful pop adaptations and above all, a delicious, staggering drive.

Rusty Bryant Soul Liberation (Prestige 1970)

Rusty Bryant was the kind of big-toned saxophonist that switched easily between r&b and jazz. In the late sixties Bryant recorded in the funk jazz vein. With Soul Liberation Rusty Bryant arguably delivered the grooviest funk jazz set of his career.

Rusty Bryant - Soul Liberation


Rusty Bryant (tenor saxophone), Virgil Jones (trumpet), Charles Earland (organ), Melvin Sparks (guitar), Idris Muhammad (drums)


on June 15, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as PR 7798 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
Cold Duck Time
The Ballad Of Oren-Bliss
Side B:
Soul Liberation
Freeze-Dried Soul

As the title track demonstrates, from the first lines Bryant grabs you by the throat and thence builds a heated solo, inspired by an equally fiery line-up. There’s Idris Muhammad. The steamroller! The funky wizard! The eloquent groovemaster! Competent in many facets of jazz, of course Muhammad is admired mostly for his groundbreaking soul jazz grooves. On this album Muhammad’s trademark press rolls ‘on the one’ are plentiful.

At the time, Muhammad mostly played with Lou Donaldson. Other Donaldson alumni are Earland and Sparks. Furthermore, all four sidemen played on Charles Earland’s masterful Black Talk. Thus they have some experience playing together and would continue to play on other recordings the following year. Charles Earland is a great organist but often demonstrates an unnerving form of bombast in this session, wasting powder and shot and leaving us wondering which solo climax is next. Yet the heavy ground beef he delivers for Rusty Bryant’s Big Wopper is wholly satisfactory.

Virgil Jones is an exciting trumpet player who shows an appetite for the exuberant blowing of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Melvin Sparks’ gritty, r&b-influenced play, at times echo-reverberating quirkily, is also an asset for a party record such as Soul Liberation; to boot, in Lou-Lou – a Charles Earland original dedicated to Lou Donaldson – the second part of Spark’s straightforward, bluesy solo is preceded by whimsical, spiraling, Oriental turns. Very charming.

Rusty Bryant sets the pace with Eddie Harris’ Cold Duck Time, shouting brusquely and throwing in some flashy bop phrases as well. Apart from the impeccable Ballad Of Oren Bliss Bryant continues to blow hard. Try putting on this album during your bi-annual house party. It’ll simultanuously prompt people to tip-toe to your linoleum dance floor and have their ears perked up well enough to notice whoever on Soul Liberation is currently cookin’.

YouTube: Cold Duck Time