In 2020, British-Ghanaian soul artist Andrew Ashong and legendary multi-instrumentalist Kaidi Tatham – born in the Midlands and based in Belfast – had a chance encounter during a DJ set in which Ashong handled the decks and Tatham started jamming on synths and flute. To be a fly on the wall in this place. The session proved to be the catalyst for the duo’s collaborative EP Sankofa Season, released in November 2020, an inaugural release for Belfast-based label Kitto Records, but more importantly, it gave Tatham another room to operate from – a richer color. Somehow, Ashong’s voice unlocked something else, not new, but alternate gear in the Tatham machinery. This makes sense considering the idea of jamming: you only do it if it feels right.
At the time, I didn’t consider it to show a new path for the keyboard virtuoso. We’re talking about a massive career, almost three decades of dominating African Diaspora electronic music, working alongside people of his own talent: Dego (of course), Mulatu Astatke, Leroy Burgess, DJ Jazzy Jeff… that’s a huge list of heavyweights too long to run here. If you get releases for labels like Dego’s 2000 Black, Alex Nut’s Eglo Records, and Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature, you’re in a rare business of cutting-edge global soul music presenters. People who refer to the past and continue to lead us into the imminent future.
The entire Twitterverse has recently lost its marbles over a certain world-famous icon’s recent choice to revisit the 90s house on its latest release, a thoughtful and calculated strategy during lockdown. Although it’s a good idea for someone’s hive, take a look at “All I Need” from Tatham’s latest album Don’t rush the process. It’s a choir, in full witty insignia, most certainly cut up and repurposed over a soulful expanse of charming, haunting bass drum. Brimming with simplicity – directness is difficult in painting – this expression of love, dark spirituality and the presence of a higher power is this two-minute statement to anyone who needs to hear, “We’re going to make it happen, behave well.”
That’s the feeling here on Tatham’s fourth solo album under his own name, he’s still changing the tempo of the stop-start pattern flow, but he’s letting more ideas in, making room for those who may not be familiar, but also need love. The string-laden start to “Mystery Solved” feels like an introduction to a classic Spike Lee movie, with Ernest Dickerson taking over the cinematographic duties, catching autumn leaves from the ground, showing how a dazzling and bountiful world lives in the many shades of black and brown – a macrocosm that is barely filmed. Tatham creates an atmosphere and a feeling of belonging: Home. Then strap in to the rocket, we’re treated to instrumentals loaded with mid-tempo funk, boogie, in-your-feelings, Patrice Rushen-adjacent post-disco, jazz-funk brilliance, Brazilian killer joints, and basically everything else. syncopated base umbrella. Tatham sets up another clinic on the powers of rhythm.
At the start of “Knocknee Donkey” there’s a funker be-bop pattern that incorporates vocals into the stop-start rhythm before reaching the spacious groove, Fender Rhodes flourishes and jazz assault lineage for which it is known. “Any Flavor”, a stuttering Brazilian beauty of a cut, and “What a Dream” later, both achieve spectacular soft peaches and cream hues with their dynamic live percussion and trailing horn lines, giving the impression hot sand between your toes and a Caipirinha ready for your immediate consumption. Isn’t life difficult? Take a refreshment. Fill your cup with this timeless signature. I despise the term “banger”, but that’s exactly what it is. “Runnin’ “Tru” is that percolated standard you’ll find on these types of releases. Listen to those drum sounds; this modest model packs a decade of bass music.
But let’s talk about those in-betweens, those 90-second instrumentals that look so much like Pete Rock, at least to this American, but are enhanced here with the Rhodes player on the piano bench like the crispy parts of a Mac ‘n baked ‘ Cheese—chunks of soul with plenty of flavor. On the lovely “Funky Fool,” contemplation of the highest genre flies under the mellow, ruminative radar. And the concluding track, a 37-second “Mind Yourself” mega jam, with melodic encore and nervous ferocity from Bruk, leaves a “till we meet again” feeling on the closing door. Let’s go quickly, Mr. Tatham.
Label: first word