Never released outside South Africa, and out of print since 1974, Outernational Sounds presents two long-lost Johannesburg sessions from the Mallory-Hall Band -- an all-star review of West Coast jazz stars who toured apartheid South Africa in the mid-1970s. During a storied career stretching across six decades, Sanifu Al Hall, Jnr. has recorded with the greats of the music including Freddie Hubbard, Doug Carn, and Johnny Hammond, and leads his own Cosmos Dwellerz Arkestra. But until recent years, the only records on which he had appeared as leader were a brace of rich, funky LPs, Song Of Soweto and The Last Special, issued only in South Africa under the moniker of The Mallory-Hall Band (named for Hall and his co-leader, guitarist Charles Mallory).
Al Hall, Jnr. and Charles Mallory arrived in South Africa as part of the touring band for the singer Lovelace Watkins. Sometimes billed as "the Black Sinatra", the Detroit-born Watkins sang standards and ballroom classics on the Las Vegas circuit. In 1974, he hired a jazz big band to accompany him on a tour of South Africa -- Hall and Mallory were part of the line-up, alongside Mastersounds bassist Monk Montgomery, pianist Kirk Lightsey, tenorist Rudolph Johnson, drummer Billy Brooks, and Marshall Royal, musical director of the Count Basie band. During downtime from performing, members of the group managed to independently record no fewer than three albums. Lightsey and Johnson's stunning Habiba was the first, and it was followed by two crucial sessions led by Hall and Mallory -- Song Of Soweto and The Last Special, issued on the local IRC imprint. The albums were recorded by a twelve-piece band at Johannesburg's Video Sounds Studios in December 1974, and feature the legendary pianist Kirk Lightsey, Black Jazz recording artist Rudolph Johnson, and the rest of the touring band. Both records are superbly arranged slabs of peak 1970s funky big band soul jazz, with tasteful Latin inflections and more than a nod to South Africa's upful township jazz sound. They are the sonic traces left by a seasoned African American band who were touring South Africa in the depths of the apartheid era, and who immediately moved beyond the segregated hotels and ballrooms to build links with local South African players and audiences. Fully licensed from Gallo Records and pressed at Pallas in Germany from Gallo's original masters, they feature new sleeve notes from Francis Gooding (The Wire) based on interviews with Al Hall Jr. and a reminiscence from pianist Kirk Lightsey.