Ensemble Al-Salaam – Peace
Ensemble Al-Salaam – Optimystical
Ensemble Al Salaam – Circles
Ensemble Al-Salaam – Music Is Nothing But A Prayer
I always like to start the new year with a bang, and this is one I’ve been holding on to for just this moment for a couple of months. Back in April I made the pilgrimage to the Mecca of record stores, Groove Merchant, with the mindset that I was only going to trade records, of which I had quite a few. Cool Chris wasn’t there, but B-Cause (who released the essential Soul Boulders series with the one and only, Matthew Africa) was and he was able to get a hold of Chris on the other side of the country at the WFMU Record Swap. While there were maybe 7 or 8 records that I’d had my mind on, this album, one I’d never seen before, was by far the one that I simply had to have. The trade knocked off $100 from the price, but it still cost me a pretty penny, though as you can tell from the sounds, it’s absolutely worth it.
The Ensemble Al-Salaam was a spiritual jazz septet from the New York area. From the pictures on the back of the album, they all look to be very young, likely no one above 21. The music on this album is so exceptional, so singular, that even though it very easily fits into the “spiritual jazz” genre, it still defies a bit of explanation. Records like this are what I like to call, “Just Listen Records.” You tell someone that you’ve heard something amazing, and they ask, “what does it sound like?” or “what makes it so special?” and the only answer of consequence is “just listen.” This is not a record you play for just anybody, but one that you protect. Not in a snobbish way, but in the way that you protect a friend that is so sensitive and sincere that you know everybody won’t appreciate them or “get them” the way you do. Interestingly, the band themselves seem to be aware of the special vibe created by their sounds, as they discuss on the back cover:
Someone may ask you, or you may ask yourself, “What type of music is this?” Well, it is music played by the Ensemble Al-Salaam. Therefore it is salaam (peace) music. Peaceful, but not weak, firey and yet non-violent. The music is greater than the sum of our collective beings. But then there are the Kafir (non-believers) who will hate this music, those who will lie about it, try to steal it or even deny it’s existence, those who will try to define and label it, thereby limiting its ability to soar, to fly above the minds clouded by pseudo intellectual reference marks. The music will survive all of this because it is truthful. It is dynamic. In fact, our music is God’s purest breath of life – expressed each time we touch the wood and metal of our musical instruments.
As someone who spends an awful lot of time talking about music, describing, categorizing it, I really can’t improve on what the band has to say about their own music. It is a powerful experience hearing these songs, whether you have before, or this is your first listen. Records like this are why I started this blog, why I continue to share music through it and why I continue to keep searching for connections between newer and older sounds. The beauty of “Peace,” “Optimystical,” “Circles” and “Music Is Nothin But A Prayer” is hard to describe fully…just listen.