Unearthed by The Mighty Zaf for BBE Music, Into A New Journey by Ambiance is an impossibly rare and sought-after private label spiritual jazz masterpiece from 1982 with Latin, Brazilian and Afro overtones. Ambiance was the ‘nom de guerre’ of an ever-shifting jazz collective headed up by Nigeria-born, LA-tutored multi- instrumentalist, arranger, producer and photographer Daoud Abubakar Balewa.
Balewa studied composition and jazz improvisation at the feet of innovators such as Frank Mitchell (Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers), Jackie McLean (Blue Note) and other masters from the golden Blue Note era. Although he favoured alto, soprano and tenor, he was equally happy on flute, keyboards, and Latin and Brazilian percussion. What’s more, he had the knack of using musicians who were bold enough to welcome being part of such multi- faceted sessions: guitarist Jim Lum’s flexibility suits the theme of this album perfectly, as does prolific Japanese soul-jazz drummer Danny Yamamoto; the stunning Hawaiian pianist Kino Cornwell (Yamamoto’s colleague from funk-fusion supergroup Hiroshima); and the wonderful Jean Carn-like tones of Daoud’s wife, jazz vocalist Monife Balewa.
From the band’s reading of Joe Henderson’s modal masterpiece Black Narcissus, through the deep multicultural percussive jazz-dance workout that is the title track, and on to the three-octave vocal embellishments of Monife, on her own composition Something Better as well as on the Chick Corea fusion classic 500 Miles High, nothing here is generic, nothing taken for granted, nothing comfortable or predictable.
All of the half-dozen or so albums recorded and released by Daoud and Ambiance during just six years of frantic creativity between 1979 and 1986 are well worth seeking out, but in BBE Music’s opinion Into A New Journey is the pinnacle: spiritual jazz worthy of the very best practitioners of the genre, by an obscure group of ludicrously talented artists on a tiny, self- financed indie label with an equally tiny promo budget: that’s what great jazz is all about.