Father of Origin
Juma Sultan | Frank Lowe | Ali Abuwi
eremite : 2011 (rec. 1971)
JS, bass, hand drums & percussion, alto saxophone; FL, tenor sax, percussion; AA, bass, hand drums & percussion, alto saxophone.
Perhaps in your web searches you have come across a site called Juma’s Archive. Perhaps, on finding Juma’s Archive, you have drooled (as we have) at the seeming bounty held within, teased and tempted by the short sound snippets and carefully culled selection of images, spanning the late 1960s and early 1970s. And perhaps you have wondered about this Juma: who is he, and what’s up with his archive?
Well, if you have — and we have, certainly — then the veil has just been lifted and we all have a chance to dig much deeper into the holdings of one Juma Sultan. The Mass.-based label eremite is today releasing a stunning box drawing on Sultan’s reservoir of recordings: Father of Origin, a two-LP, one-CD set complete with a gracefully compiled, oversized booklet that is full of evocative photographs and captured ephemera. We feel fortunate that eremite has provided D:O with an exclusive edit from one of the tracks, “Sundance.” (You can hear other excerpts at the eremite site.)
Documenting a still under-recognized period of fermentation for the music — East Coast lofts, c. ’69/’70/’71 — this set has already garnered positive reactions from the New York Times, the Wire, and elsewhere. It is highly organic roots music. They got the rhythm down first, whatever the context, then extended an invitation to whoever wanted in on this “open-ended collective,” in Sultan’s words. In the sample above, we hear extremely early Frank Lowe. This is two years before his breakout works Duo Exchange (with Rashied Ali) and Black Beings, though his alternately rich and honking tone is already in full flower.
We spoke with Sultan to get a sense of the origins of the project. It started via the internet. Michael Ehlers of eremite became aware of the archive via the site, and after a meeting to square away bona fides, Ehlers spent a couple days at Sultan’s place going through the material and selecting what ultimately ended up on Father of Origin. It marks, says Sutlan, the “tip of the iceberg.” Given Sultan’s long association with the music and ability to be in the right place at the right time (he arrived in New York from the Bay Area in ’66, with Sonny Simmons, settled a couple doors up the block from Slug’s Saloon); his archivist tendencies (“I’m still collecting gig flyers”); and his careful stewardship of this now-massive trove (getting an NEA grant to work on the archives, resisting the urge to sell the entire cache to Alan Douglas, among others), there is still a lot that remains to be done.
But take heart: additional documentation will roll out next year, with more selected recordings (in a very different vein) to come from Porter Records, and a multi-media e-book covering Sultan and the legacy he preserves to be published by Wesleyan University Press: Reel History: The Lost Archive of Juma Sultan and the Aboriginal Music Society, by Stephen Farina.
It couldn’t be any clearer that there are other histories yet to be written. Which ones are you most interested in?