Saturday, May 26, 2012


Dawan Muhammad qualifies as a unique kind of renaissance man. For Hereafter he plays woodwinds and flutes, is composer, arranger, conceptualizer, and label manager. But the reality is so much broader than that. He is a community activist and non-profit entrepreneur, as much concerned for the mental and cultural health of Bay Area communities, and propagation of this unique art form we call jazz, as he is about his own musical development. He gives back to the community in a variety of different, well-chronicled ways; he gives back to the music in this instance with Hereafter. 

Dawan¹s primary vehicle, LifeForcejazz, is not only the imprimatur of this recording, it is also a means of bringing arts and culture to various Bay Area communities, through a variety of after-school and weekend programs for youngsters and young adults. LifeForcejazz, which can be accessed on the web at (, also provides vehicles to assist independent jazz recording artists to better maximize their product and opportunities. Just who is the dynamic force behind LifeForcejazz?

Born in Dallas Texas, Dawan Muhammad seemed to naturally respond to jazz, even as a toddler. He later became intrigued by homegrown jazz artists like Buster Smith, Red Garland, Ornette Coleman, King Curtis, Kenny Dorham, David "Fathead" Newman, Cedar Walton, and James Clay, just to name a few. When Muhammad¹s family migrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, he took up the saxophone in middle school. By the time he entered military service his alto sax was just a memory, but his love for jazz and experience in the service drove him to resume his musical quest. He enrolled in correspondence courses from Berklee School of Music and was eventually stationed at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey where he came in contact with New York-based artists and mentors such as Frank Wess,George Coleman, Barry Harris, James Spaulding, Don Patterson, Joe Chambers and a host of others.

Following his service stint he earned degrees in Political Science and Islamic Studies from UC Santa Cruz. While matriculating, he co-founded Evidence Artistic Records with classmate Randy Masters and became immersed in developing ideas, vehicles, and means to assist in advancing the careers of his fellow artists. In 1994, Dawan and jazz legend Billy Higgins launched LifeForcejazz Records to pursue new projects and examine the impressive body of recordings in the can, some of which they never intended to release. However, due to the compelling nature of the music and a desire to build a label and distribution vehicles, more releases became inevitable. Which brings us to Hereafter.

The sessions that yielded this 10 track program stem from recordings laid down in December 1979; December 1987; and February 1988. Despite that passage of time, there is freshness in this music that is unmistakable. According to Dawan, "I have a somewhat suspect reputation for attempting to pull off spontaneous recording sessions, where musicians are called together at the last minute, the music is arranged on the spot, and everyone leaves the session wondering what happened." Wonder no more, the evidence is
finely wrought in Hereafter, which is a somewhat prophetic title considering its recording vintage and current release.

"Although these recordings were not intended for commercial use, as it turns out, I ended up releasing them for documentation purposes. The collaborating artists on these dates are a combination of long time friends and mentors, who were always willing to help me try out my ideas and bring some of their own to the table. I try to pay tribute to those who influenced me," says Muhammad. Indeed the music is delivered by a cast including several notable artists on the national and international stage. These include Ray Drummond (tracks 1-4) and Jeff Chambers (tracks 5-10), who anchor the date with their bulwark bass work, giving the music a firm foundation. The trumpet and flugelhorn chores are split between two underrated voices: Eddie Henderson (tracks 1-4), and the late Johnny Coles (tracks 8-10).

And speaking of underrated, the drum work on tracks 8-10 is contributed by one of the Bay Area¹s finest, Eddie Marshall. Rounding out the cast are such estimable players as pianists Paul Nagel (tracks 1-4) and Glen Pearson (tracks 5-10); drummers Guillermo Cantu (tracks 1-4) and Bob Braye (tracks 5-7); and trombonist Dan Marcus (tracks 8-10). One of the date¹s wild cards is Mondre Moffett on baritone horn, a member of the brass family seldom heard in jazz settings, but quite appropriate to the setting in which Dawan has cast it. Establishing the tone is our leader, who performs on soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones; bass clarinet, and flutes. The title track, Hereafter, establishes a medium tempo, contemplative mood, with flute and woodwind harmonies underpinning Henderson's bittersweet flugelhorn.

Capturing the mood, Dawan takes his solo on alto flute, which coupled with Henderson's flugelhorn is remindful of some of Herbie Hancock's voicings when Eddie was his trumpeter. Dawan adroitly switches to the alto after concluding his flute statement. West Oakland Strut, written by fellow Bay Area pianist Ed Kelly, provides a framework for Moffett's dexterous baritone horn. One of the hallmarks of this date is Muhammad's democratic leadership; he gives ample breathing room to his peers' expressions, never hogging the spotlight.

Dawan wrote a stately intro to Chick Corea¹s Now He Sings, arranging the composer's piano voicings for horns, this sextet rendition finds our leader on soprano sax. Bowing to the composing gifts of his fellow travelers, next up is pianist Paul Nagel¹s No Need, a superb showcase for Eddie Henderson¹s fluid drive trumpet, as he delivers a beautiful legato solo, spelled by Dawan¹s tenor this time. Speaking of his tenor, he takes his own Consider The Source on the big horn. It¹s a quartet showcase for the leader¹s tenor, which at least at this point in his career was his most broadly developed voice. Glen Pearson¹s lyrical Bree¹s Theme follows. It¹s a lovely, optimistically open piece and yet another fine tenor showcase for Dawan. His tenor has a warm, humanistic quality. Sneakin¹ A Peak Into Darkness by Jeff Chambers is a good blowing vehicle for Muhammad¹s soprano. The pianist sits this one out, leaving a bare bones sax, bass & drums setting, allowing Dawan to hang fly with his freest expressions on the date. His original piece Ota is an apt follow-up, a lovely flute ballad, and the entry point for the burnish-toned Johnny Coles. Eddie Marshall¹s Seems To Be is one of this disc¹s highlight themes, given a jaunty swagger in its delivery and Dan Marcus¹ fluid trombone adds a tasty voice on this piece.

The slightly introverted styling of Coles offers a nice contrast to Eddie Henderson from earlier in the date. While Eddie Henderson is more from the Freddie Hubbard school, Coles is more closely akin to a Kenny Dorham or Booker Little approach. The juxtaposition of the two trumpet & flugelhorn men lends the date a successful sense of balance. The surging Muhammad original, Muqaddimah, with its three horn frontline, has an almost Messengers-like quality. The selections on Hereafter offer music that grows and further unfolds with each listen. Makes one wonder what other goodies Dawan Muhammad has up his sleeve or rather, in his vault. The wait should be well worth it!

~Willard Jenkins

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