I came of musical age 45 years ago in the small village of Yellow Springs, Ohio. It was there that I began my musical metamorphosis as an undergraduate student at Antioch College in the fall of 1970. My life before Antioch can be characterized in two words: Chicago Southside.
On August 29, 1971 The Collective performed at Kelly Hall, the main auditorium on the campus of Antioch. We began the concert with The Shepherds Tune. It is the first track on CD #1 and has never been previously released. The composition is a pastoral ode to the keepers of the flock who guards and protects. While guarding there is the omnipresent flute or pipe that is played to entertain the soul/solo guardian, soothe, and ward off evil. A repetitive piano motive begins and is joined by Soprano, Flute and French horn playing the melody. During the course of the tune the rhythm becomes elastic, changing to fit the mood of the soloist. The music of The Collective was very impressionistic making use of the beautiful colors of a front line of soprano and alto sax, flute and French horn: a wonderful union of sound!
In the spring of 1972 I wrote a proposal to the Antioch Abroad Program to take a year study abroad. In line with the experimental nature of Antioch College the proposal was revolutionary. As students we wanted to go over to Europe, form a band and get work. The second part of the proposal stipulated that we would also go and study music in Africa. The Antioch Abroad Program gave us each a small stipend for living costs per month, and a round the world air ticket! All we had to do to satisfy our formal academic requirements was to take 5 weeks of intensive French at the University of Besancon in France and then we would be on our own! During the course of our stay in France we formed The Pyramids.
The second track of CD #1, Land of Eternal Song, was recorded at the Radio Station VPRO in Hilversum, Holland and has also never been previously released. Very high-energy solos that would be long and intense characterized the music of the Pyramids. It was as if we wanted our soul to burst out of our body! Land of Eternal Song begins with an ostinato bass line followed by a warm exotic melody played in harmony by flute and soprano sax. My solo is long and intense. The composition ends on a quiet meditative section.
ROAD TRIP to AFRICA
After incredible performances and experiences during the fall of 1972 Margo, Kimathi and myself left Amsterdam on our way to Africa in December 1973. After nine months The Pyramids returned to our home in Yellow Springs, Ohio and began to coalesce all of the knowledge that we had acquired from our journey. We had also collected quite a lot of African musical instruments. We reconnected with Antioch student and percussionist, Brady Speller, who joined the band and was the rhythmical link to Africa that we needed. Tall soprano sax playing Tony Owens who I nicknamed “Masai” also joined the band along with a drummer named Marcel Lytle.
Track number 3, 4 and 5 are from the 1973 studio release by The Pyramids entitled, Lalibela. It begins with a rhythm that was taught to us in Africa followed by a mysterious floating melody played by soprano sax and flute. Track 5 Ya A Ya A Ya A is rambunctious rhythm jam that allows for a lot of blowing room. Track 6 is an example of the meditative string and flute passages that would become a trademark of the band.
In October 1973 The Pyramids performed our second concert at Kelly Hall on the Antioch campus. Track number 6 entitled, The River Ganges, was performed live at the October concert and has never before been released.
Several months after the concert The Pyramids recorded our second album King of Kings. Tracks number 7 and 8 are from King of Kings. For the recording the band added guest artists Jerome Saunders on piano, and Chris Chaff on cello. We recorded the album in Chillicothe, Ohio. It was a spiritual session! Track #7 is entitled, Mogho Naba (King of Kings). In African history the Mogho Naba was the paramount ruler of the Mossi ancient kingdom. The driving trans like line repeats with a chant over the top followed by a beautiful soaring alto sax melody and a call and response from the flute. Track #8, Queen of the Spirits Part 3, is one of my favorite compositions. It represents the most meditative and spiritual side of The Pyramids’ music. Kimathi playing on the African Ugandan Harp and Margo’s flute playing are particularly memorable.
The California Story
After I graduated from Antioch College, Margo and myself headed to the San Francisco Bay Area to begin our lives after school. The first track on CD #2 is Aomawa. The song was named for my daughter, Aomawa Lalahie who was born May 30, 1975. I remember several months before she was born I was rehearsing and a beautiful melody came to me with nonsense syllables. I chanted it over and over, and I thought…this is the name for our daughter! Aomawa Lalahie means “a feeling of spiritual strength”.
For Birth/Speed/Merging we also brought the very talented percussionist Kenneth Nash to play on the record. He played a variety of unusual and beautiful percussion instruments. The second track on CD # 2, Birth/Speed/Merging Suite, is one of my most interesting and exotic compositions that I wrote for The Pyramids. Featuring the Ugandan Harp, the Chinese Cheng, and a string instrument called the Rosenbow, the composition is an aural delight of unusual sounds and beautiful colors.
The third track takes us again back to Amsterdam during 1972. Black Man of the Nile is one of my most endearing compositions. The book of the same name by Yosef Ben- Johannan inspired the composition. The book categorically denied the racial picture that Hollywood painted of the ancient land of Egypt. Egypt was not the ancient land made popular by the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra! The composition was performed as a suite beginning with me playing an instrument that I invented named “The Ope”. It is a long piece of bamboo with a saxophone mouthpiece attached rendering a very exotic sound. My solo on alto sax is full of intensity, groans, moans, field hollers, shouts, and screams as if the instrument is breaking in two! The fourth track takes the listener directly to Africa. This is a piece recorded live in the field in Tamale, Ghana. Margo and myself were invited by the King’s court musicians to play with them. It is amazing to still have these recordings form March 1972 that chronicle our incredible road trip up into Northern Ghana.
The Pyramids played our last concert at the 1977 UC Berkeley Jazz Festival opposite Al Jareau. We went out with a bang! Due to growing pains, different paths as well as the dissolution of my marriage with Margo it was time to move on. It was now time to really investigate my jazz roots and learn more of the traditional jazz repertoire. Simultaneously, continuing to compose original music and lead new groups. During the late seventies I formed the Idris Ackamoor Quartet and Quintet.
Tracks 6, 7, and 8 are taken from the 3 CD’s I have recorded under the Idris Ackamoor Ensemble. Track 6 is entitled, Topanga, and is inspired by a very beautiful area located near Los Angeles. Track 7 is entitled, Centurian, and is a propulsive rhythmic ode to the coming of the 21st Century. The music of Sun Ra really inspired this composition. The final track closing the 2 CD set is appropriate. Cubana is one of my most memorable, beautiful and inspirational compositions to date. Composed after a period of recreation and study in Cuba the song is homage to the gorgeous and resilient Cuban woman.