Sunday, February 10, 2013

Treasure: Griot Galaxy "Androgyny" - live in 1984

Music history is filled with artists and recordings that remain rare or obscure to us for a myriad of reasons. Jazz arguably more so than other genres. Some may have been projects, one offs or long standing, that for whatever reasons never officially recorded (the Henry Threadgill Society Situation Dance Band is a famous example). Others may be bands and artists that may have recorded their music, but did so for small and independent labels that eventually (and perhaps inevitably) folded and that time forgot. Even in this day and age of crate digging, specialists re-issue labels and the like, not everything gets picked up, and as such many a recording has faded into obscurity.

Griot Galaxy belong to the latter category, 'though given the length of their existence and the extent of their touring, one might argue they somehow fit in the former as well. Formed in Detroit, Michigan, sometime around 1972 by saxophonist and poet Faruq Z. Bey, who sadly passed away last year, Griot Galaxy only recorded one proper album: the fabulously weird, free, sci-fi jazz-funk of Kins, released by Black & White Records in 1982.

Griot Galaxy consisted of Bey, saxophonist Anthony Holland, bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Tani Tabbal. Other musicians have also been part of the group, among them percussionist Panda O'Bryan, who appears on the live album Opus Krampus, recorded while the band was on tour in Europe in 1984, and notably saxophonist David McMurray, who played on both Kins and GG's other live recording, Live at the D.I.A.. Their music had elements of rambunctious free jazz and propulsive funk, perhaps reminiscent of some of Ornette Coleman's harmolodic bands, as well as a hint of The Art Ensemble of Chicago, not least in their expressive and eye catching imagery.

 GG disbanded in 1989 some time after Faruq Z. Bey had been seriously injured in a motorbike accident. From what I can find, Anthony Holland seems to have done little in terms of music since then. On the other hand, David McMurray have played with everyone from Was (Not Was), Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop and Khaled, while Tani Tabbal and Jaribu Shahid have remained more closely involved in jazz. The both appear on some of James Carter's early recordings, for example, and they have both played with David Murray at various times. In fact, I was lucky enough to see Shahid play with Murray's Black Saint Quartet at Molde Jazz Festival in 2008, though at the time I was not aware that the bassist I was seeing and hearing was the very same that had played on Kins.

This leads me to this amazing recent discovery on YouTube: a live video, no less, of Griot Galaxy playing a tune called "Androgeny", recorded in 1984 at St. Andrews Hall for the Metro Times Music Awards. The picture is good, and the sound is surprisingly good, too. On this evidence, they must have been some live band in their day. (From left: Anthony Holland, David McMurray, Faruq Z. Bey, Tani Tabbal and Jaribu Shahid).


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