Kamaal Williams is a man who deals in groove. From his propulsive house-led productions under the moniker Henry Wu to his 2016 album Black Focus with drummer Yussef Dayes, his signature sound is one of the ever-shifting relationship between the rhythms of drums, bass and keys.
Following the break-up of his partnership with drummer Dayes, Williams has gone solo, continuing his groove-based legacy under his own name and record label, also titled Black Focus. The result is The Return, a sequel of sorts to his recordings with Dayes, encompassing the laid-back swagger of hip-hop, jittering afrobeats, louche funk, and ‘60s soul within an improvised jazz context.
The video for lead single, ‘Salaam’, was filmed in Morocco and as such Williams chose the neon-lit basement of Moroccan restaurant Momo for his album launch party. As DJ and producer Maxwell Owin warmed up proceedings with a selection of ‘90s neo soul and rare jazz cuts, the small space filled to a sauna-steam intensity, awaiting the arrival of Williams with his new ensemble.
As the trio took to the stage, Williams opened with a tight improvisation, employing his instantly recognisable blend of Rhodes keys, buzzing synths and scattering drums. On numbers like ‘Salaam’ and ‘The Return’, bassist Pete Martin channelled Thundercat with burning hot arpeggiated runs, while Williams countered with languid pads. Live, the band translated the often-fragmentary record into a seamless blend of ever-changing improvisations and solos, closing on the Black Focus highlight ‘Strings of Light’. Here, the guitarist from London-based fusion group Triforce, Mansur Brown, took to the stage and stole the show with his rapid changes over Williams’ extended synth-strings.
Despite the sweltering heat of the room, Williams’ trio kept the crowd locked into their groove for the duration of their set. Their rhythms guaranteed to earworm into your mind for days and days to come.
The Return is out now on Black Focus.
Buy it here.
Words: Ammar Kalia