The Sorcerers :: I Too Am A Stranger

In the October 2015 issue of National Geographic appeared an article by Douglas Preston, entitled “Lure of the Lost City.” The story documented an expedition led by two filmmakers and a team of scientists to locate La Ciudad Blanca, the mythical pre-Colombian White City, buried deep beneath the dense rain forests of Honduras and supposedly presided over by the giant statue of a monkey god. The Leeds, UK band The Sorcerers’ self-titled debut album had appeared a few months earlier, and when the group reconvened in early 2018 to begin work on a follow-up, bassist Neil Innes suggested Preston’s article as an imaginative point of departure. Of course, the resulting album, In Search of The Lost City of The Monkey God, had nothing whatsoever to do with the painstaking laser mapping of the Honduran jungle. It was a 1930s Doc Savage fantasy of archaeology, rife with perilous rope bridges and strange rites and cursed idols. It might have been more than a little problematic if it wasn’t so brazen in its pulpiness. It helps too that it was funky as all get-out.

Originally formed by ATA Records founders Innes and multi-instrumentalist Pete Williams, along with drummer Joost Hendrickx, keyboardist Johnny Richards and Richard Ormrod on woodwinds and flute, the Sorcerers began as an experiment in crafting Ethio-tinged 7-inches for their label. (Check out this clip of them playing their killer early cut “Cave of Brahma” at the ATA Studios in Leeds.) Of course, the recipe of white-guys-cribbing-off-Éthiopiques might not have gone terribly far if they weren’t bringing all kinds of new spices into the mix. And the music on their first two albums worked psychedelic funk and giallo soundtracks and exotica into the Ethio-jazz brew. There’s Morricone-esque spaghetti and Moondog-style snaketime alongside a healthy dose of Mulatu Astatke. It all makes for a stiff cocktail. Like the scorpion bowl at the tiki bar, it goes down easy but gets you sideways before long.

I wonder if the title of The Sorcerers’ third album, I Too Am a Stranger, is an allusion to their global musical tourism. Or perhaps it is from the Basho haiku (Turn to me/this autumn eve/I, too, am a stranger). Either way, the new album is another ripping collection of cosmopolitan bops. This time, Innes, Hendrickx and Ormrod are joined by trumpeter Olivia Cuthill and percussionist Danny Templeman. The preternaturally tight rhythm section of Innes and Hendrickx make every track bounce, as flute, keys, vibes, trumpet flourishes and low smears of bass clarinet color over and around them. Check out the snake charmer big beat of album opener “He Who Kills With One Leap.” Or the mad flute workouts, “Bebaynetu” and “Kid Mahout.” Or the dreamy alto sax lead on “She Who Perceives the Sounds of the World.” “Oromo Moon” is wicked Addis disco. And the entheogenic funk of “The Warrior Code” sounds like Hailu Mergia on mushrooms. On album standout “Yasuke In Roppongi,” Hendrickx lives in the pocket, while Ormrod slashes and burns on the bass clarinet; it’s almost like the Head Hunters bringing the funk in Ethiopian scales.

Not unlike Greg Foat or the Natural Yogurt Band, the Sorcerers are another purveyor of what I recently called pulp jazz, effortlessly funky stuff trussed up with all kinds of less-reputable genre signifiers, drawn from library grooves, exotica, lounge music, kung fu movie soundtracks, instro-hipster canned psychedelia. What I love about this style is the way it hearkens back to a time when jazz was a global pop form, when its permutations, high and low, still belonged to night clubs and film scores and radio waves. At their best, the Sorcerers remind us of when jazz was genuinely a world music. The language was spoken everywhere. | b sirota

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