Somewhere between the drug-infused madness of Parliament Funkadelic and more traditional 60s-era jazz and soul releases, resides The Pharaohs 1971 LP Awakening. The album is one of a pair of releases by a band whose members would go on to leave an indelible mark on popular music, both of which are currently available through Ubiquity Records.
The story of The Pharaohs is forever intertwined with the establishment of the Affro Arts Theater on Chicago’s southside, in 1967. The venue doubled as a community center that served as a prominent outlet for black artistic culture of all kinds. The Affro Arts Theater was founded, in part by Phil Cohran, original cornetist in Sun Ra’s legendary Arkestra. Cohran’s presence began to attract a who’s who of session musicians from Chess Records, Crane Junior College and other hotbeds of the Chicago music scene at the time. The Pharaohs were the result of a merger between the Cohran-led Artistic Heritage Ensemble and a student band called The Jazzmen.
Awakening begins with “Damballa”, a statement piece named for the voodoo Sky God that clocks in at just more than eight minutes. Imagine an up-tempo version of the jazz standard “Caravan” with Brazilian-tinged, Afrobeat underpinnings. It begins with the alarming punch of the horn section followed by relentless, rollicking play on percussion. The chanting that appears intermittently throughout “Damballa” points to an almost ritualistic element to the music. With that, the stage is set.
The Pharaohs remain in this African motif for the second track “Ibo” before entering guilty pleasure territory on a lounge-like rendition of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears.” The cover and follow-up track “Black Enuff” serve as an accurate portrayal of popular black culture at the time, serving as a preview of the music that would supply the soundtrack to popular films like Superfly the following year.
For my money, the real magic happens on the album’s latter half. Just two tracks, the b-side clocks in at just less than 20 minutes. “Freedom Road” and “Great House” feature The Pharaohs at their loosest, with trumpeter Charles Handy and trombonist Louis Satterfield offering alien riffs on horns. In 1971, jazz had yet to take on its professorial persona and performances still implied a raucous dance party.
The Pharaohs released their lone follow-up in the form of 1972’s In The Basement. By 1973, Maurice White, original drummer for the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, poached much of the band’s brass section to form the foundation of The Phenix Horns – the widely celebrated horn section of the White-led Earth, Wind, and Fire. The rest as they say is history. The sound created by The Pharaohs, and Sun Ra before them, would be borrowed and imitated for decades to come. Fortunately, thanks to Ubiquity, we all have the opportunity to enjoy the original article.
Written by Rob Peoni
To call Chicago MC V8 unique would be an understatement. While his unorthodox rhyming style draws inspiration from underground hip hop mainstays like El-P and Aesop Rock, whenever V8 appears on a track, you know it’s him. While the word abstract is often misused as a blanket description for thought provoking hip hop, it’s the perfect word to describe V8’s musical approach. His voice, delivery, and content all walk the fine line between brilliance and absurdity. It’s clear he has a perspective to share, and even though his linguistic armor often shrouds his message, the style is so fresh that it forces me to keep listening and extract whatever meaning I can.
I got into V8’s music through his collaborations with Brooklyn producer A.M. Breakups, who has also worked extensively with Thought on Tracks favorite billy woods. Breakups and his roommate Jeff Markey (who together go by Surface Tension Beekeepers) teamed up with V8 while the rapper was in Brooklyn for a recent weekend to create an excellent little release entitled Venus Infinity. While I haven’t heard any material from V8 since his last collab with Breakups a couple years ago, he picks up right where he left off in creating a trio of trippy, introspective sonic bursts. A.M. Breakups and Jeff Markey provide the perfect soundscape for V8’s maniacal musings , Markey’s psychedelic strummer “Spraycans for Chanclates (Metal On Metal)” sets the table for one of V8’s best ever performances. He raps “My sentences run forever like Kenyans/ I’m not playing, like video games after Sega Genesis” and shows off his ‘nothing is as it seems’ metaphorical style. Each song is stranger than the last, closing with the seductive but cryptic track “Drinking Water for Lovers”. Stream/Download Venus Infinity below and get a taste of why A.M. Breakups’ new label Reservoir Sound, and V8 in particular, is a collective I’m really excited about.
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Written by John Bugbee
There is a certain inherent youthfulness that underlies rock and roll. It’s tough to define, but you know it when you see it. Since its inception, rock’s narrative has been crafted by cocksure, rebellious characters on a path towards upheaval. Thus, it should come as no surprise that a Chicago five-piece, comprised entirely of 17 year-olds, appears next in line to leave their mark on rock and roll’s evolving history.
On August 7, The Orwells will release their debut LP Remember When (pre-order) on Autumn Tone Records. The band has dropped a trio of videos as an appetizer. My personal favorite can be found below. The video for “In My Bed” features clips of Santa Monica’s legendary Z-Boys skateboard team. Another group of teenagers that once set its sights on lighting its respective scene on fire. The Orwells have spent the past couple of weeks cutting their teeth in and around Los Angeles. Initial impressions appear favorable (see: Live Music Blog). Check out the track list for Remember When, and brace yourself for a new teenage crush.
Written by Rob Peoni