With bonus tracks (7,8)
Idris Muhammad's House of the Rising Sun is a legendary soul-jazz album, and for good reason. First there's the fact that, Grady Tate notwithstanding, Idris Muhammad is easily the greatest of all soul-jazz drummers. Next, it is revealed that label boss and producer Creed Taylor was at his most inspired here, and wasn't afraid to err on the rhythm and blues side of the jazz equation. The material is top-notch, and David Matthews, who orchestrated and arranged this date with the exception of one track - "Sudan" was written by Muhammad and Tom Harrell, and Harrell arranged it - was on fire. As a bandleader, Muhammad is shockingly effective. Not because one could ever doubt his ability, but because of his reputation as one of the great studio drummers in jazz. Finally, this is the single greatest lineup in Kudu's history, and features the talents of Don Grolnick, Eric Gale, Will Lee, Roland Hanna, Joe Beck, David Sanborn, Michael Brecker, Hugh McCracken, Bob Berg, Fred Wesley, Patti Austin, and a dozen others playing their asses off. From the title track which opens the album, with Austin reaching the breaking point in her delivery, to the stunningly funky groove in Ashford and Simpson's "Hard to Face the Music," to the minor key funk of the Chopin-adapted theme in "Theme for New York City," to "Sudan"'s triple-timed drums and killer Eastern-tinged hooks, and a read of the Meters' "Hey Pocky A-Way," with Eric Gale's dirty finger poppin' bass atop McCracken's bluesed-out slide work, this is a steaming, no let-up album. Add to this a gorgeous version of the Ary Barroso Brazilian jazz classic "Bahia," and you have the set for a classic jazz album. But the complete disregard for the political correctness of "Jazz" itself, in order to get the deeply funky and soulful grooves across, is what makes this set so damn special and even spiritual in its inspiration. Jazz purists lost all credibility when they slagged this one off, caught as they were in tainted, even racist views of the past that made no allowances for jazz musicians to actually follow their time-honored tradition of mining the pop music of the day to extend the breadth and reach of jazz itself. Anybody who wants to believe that George Gershwin is somehow more important than George Porter Jr. is already lost in his own cultural fascism. Muhammad, who understands this better than anyone, pulled out all the stops here and blasted out one amazingly tough, funky slab. Brilliant.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)
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As a drummer, Idris Muhammad always could be counted on to deliver a beat that was instantly identifiable - solid, straightforward, and never too obtrusive. He always played with distinctive flair behind the other musicians, providing great support, but never actually intruding or calling attention to his playing, unless it was required of him.
Even on his albums as a leader, he always seemed to take second place behind his labelmates and guest soloists. But when the disco craze took over, there was nothing stopping him, and while others struggled to keep the beat, Idris merrily joined the fun and became a star in his own right. The album that decided his fate in this field was House Of The Rising Sun, recorded for Kudu, CTI's subsidiary soul label, an exhilarating effort that yielded a minor dance club hit in "Baia (Boogie Bump)," and that has been widely sampled ever since by deejays and rappers around the world. But, if truth be told, everything was done to make the album a success - the sidemen brought together for the occasion, many of them close musical partners of Idris, like guitarists Eric Gale and Joe Beck, keyboard aces Leon Pendarvis and Don Grolnick, bassists Will Lee and Wilbur Bascomb, and vocalists Frank Floyd, Patti Austin, Debbie McDuffie and Hilda Harris, among others; the lush orchestrations provided by in-house arranger Dave Matthews, a master at R&B sounds; and a slew of distinguished soloists, like David Sanborn, Ronnie Cuber, and George Young on saxophones; Tom Harrell on trumpet; Fred Wesley and Barry Rogers on trombones. The New York music scene was thriving with great, talented people, and many of them participated in the making of the album.
There was excitement and enthusiasm galore around this release, and the infectious sounds and vibes were felt by everyone who worked at the label. But it was the world outside that needed to be convinced. It didn't take long. CTI was still basking in one of its most successful periods, and almost everything that came out of Rudy Van Gelder studios and bore Creed Taylor's miraculous producing touch was bound to make waves and attract interest. House Of The Rising Sun passed the test. Along with other albums released around the same time, notably Esther Phi Hips' What A Diffrence A Day Makes, the label was becoming another hotbed of urban contemporary and dance club sounds, after having been a trendsetter in fusion. And Idris became a front runner of the trend.
The pervading mood here was dancing fun, the kind of music that would compel people to hit the dance floor and lose themselves in the powerful beat and lavish orchestral vibes with joy and total abandon. In that respect, "Baia," a not-so-subtle rendition of Ary Barroso's 1930s tune popularized in the Disney film, The Three Caballeros, hit the spot. But other selections in the album - the aptlytitled "Hard To Face The Music," the funky "Hey Pocky A-Way," and the explosive "Sudan" - all shared the same sense of total exhilaration that pervaded this joyous album.
Today, House Of The Rising Sun continues to hold listeners under its spell, and despite changing moods and attitudes, still keeps people wanting to get up and boogie.
- Didier C. Deutsch