Album Review: Kamaal Williams - 'Wu Hen'

Sophomore full-length 'Wu Hen' finds Kamaal Williams as explorative as ever, channelling R&B, jazz and house through his sun-dappled London jazz sound. But with the incisive legacy of the ex-collaborative Yussef Kamaal album, 'Black Focus', as well as his own debut solo triumph, Dominic Allum explores whether 'Wu Hen' reinforces Williams' status as a visionary of twenty-first century jazz.

Initially emerging onto the scene as one half of London jazz-funk duo Yussef Kamaal, Kamaal Williams has consistently displayed an approach to jazz that encapsulates not only the technical but the experimental side of the genre. Following the disbandment of the group after just one album (albeit a masterpiece), Williams has since lent his talents to various other projects, releasing his debut album under his own name in 2018, as well as exploring further musical landscapes under his DJ moniker, Henry Wu.

It is on his sophomore album 'Wu Hen' however, that we see these two worlds collide perfectly: his ear for beats, production and mixing combining seamlessly with his knowledge and skill of jazz instrumentation. A modern-day jazz bandleader, he assembles a talented ensemble of musicians which, although often results in his keyboard abilities taking a back seat, ensures the record remains a collaborative, spiritual endeavour.

Photo Credit: Glauco Canalis

This is seen immediately on album opener Street Dreams where the entrancing strings of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson meld with Quinn Mason's sparse saxophone to create an atmosphere of mist and shadows. However, this becomes juxtaposed immediately with the repetitive electronic riff of One More Time, the driving drums of Greg Paul forming the backbone upon which the rest of the band build. Skipping from one idea to the next, Williams allows each track to dissolve into one another, the listener being given access to his subconscious as we drift in and out of various musical dreams, every possible tangent being explored and evolved until you can longer remember where you came from.

In a more traditional jazz outing, Pigalle evokes the improvisational atmosphere of New Orleans jazz bars, the track feeling organic both in terms of construction and performance. This is once again contrasted by the polished production of album highlight Save Me, Williams putting the groove centre stage, as the infectious beat is peppered with moments from Rick Leon James’s bass. Proceeded by the equally dance-inducing Mr Wu, it is on these tracks that we see the fusion described by Williams as ‘Wu Funk’ in full flow.

'Williams works in his own genre, incorporating a sphere of musical influences that results in a constantly evolving sound'

Meanwhile, the penultimate Hold On wears its R&B on its sleeve as Kaytranada collaborator Lauran Faith provides an alluring vocal over a click beat that welcomes back the entrancing dream-catcher string once more. Ultimately, Kamaal Williams works in his own genre, incorporating a sphere of musical influences that results in a constantly evolving sound across 'Wu Hen' - the record being constrained neither by convention nor structure, as Williams' endlessly creative mind is allowed to flow freely.

Words by: Dominic Allum

Edited by: Olivia Stock