London-based keyboardist Kamaal Williams has been releasing jazzy house and broken beat tracks under the alias Henry Wu for the last few years, but recently he’s been better known for his role alongside Yussef Dayes as one half of Yussef Kamaal, a band collaboration that sadly ended last year after releasing just one album (2016’s ‘Black Focus’). After swiftly forming his own Kamaal Williams Ensemble alongside bassist Pete Martin and drummer Joshua McKenzie and going on to perform at 2017’s Glastonbury festival, ‘The Return’, released on Williams’ new Black Focus label and dedicated to the victims of the Grenfell tower fire, offers up the trio’s debut album.
Throughout the ten tracks collected here, there’s an emphasis upon lush modern jazz structures that occasionally veer off into adventurous psychedelia – something that calls to mind Kamasi Washington’s explorations if they were being traversed using a more stripped down vehicle. Opening track ‘Medina’ suggests one of the Cinematic Orchestra’s filimic openings as it teases at first, sending noodling clavinet solos trickling like drops of water against lazily shuffling drums and a subtle bass groove, before the crashing snares rise up and break everything down.
‘Aisha’ meanwhile sees Williams taking the spotlight for a solo keyboard performance that sees him layering sheeny swelling synth harmonies into a rich wall of sound that nods towards silky smooth RNB soul whilst sending chills up the spine. ‘Broken Theme’ more than lives up to its title as McKenzie lays down spidery breakbeats that call to mind garage / grime more than anything else as Martin’s hyper-elastic basslines prowl alongside Williams’ smoky-sounding clavinet melodies.
Elsewhere, ’Catch The Loop’ suggests ‘Hard Normal Daddy’-era Squarepusher being performed adeptly by a live trio, as arrythmic breakbeats hammer against stabbing jazzy synths and Martin’s intricate, Jaco Pastorius-esque bass runs. Throughout this album, there’s a strong focus on building up grooves, and it would come as no surprise if Kamaal Williams was able to achieve the same sort of crossover success that the likes of Thundercat and the aforementioned Washington have enjoyed.