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Sabu Martinez - Afro Temple
Sabu Martinez, regarded as one of the greatest percussionists in jazz history, was as known for his combustible personality as his ability to make the drums speak. Despite recording with Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie, stories about Martinez's various entanglements with women and musicians tend to overshadow his early solo albums, which are often grouped in the lounge/exotica category. He made sure to rectify that situation with Afro Temple, his final album. Recorded after Sabu had moved to Sweden, Afro Temple was originally designed to showcase the proficiency of his drum students. Instead of a teaching tool, Sabu left us with an outrageously creative record, one that has earned cult status over the years.

Consisting of nine short tracks, Temple wastes no time in announcing its intention to present drumming as a way to celebrate life. "My Cristina," "Para ti, Tito Rodriguez" and "My Son Johnny and Me" are seemingly dedicated to relatives or close friends, and the band responds with overwhelming amounts of energy. The title cut, perhaps the most famous song here, places a wailing saxophone line atop a loping bass-and-percussion base, sounding like something you'd expect to find on a rare groove compilation. The other famous sample here is "All Camels Hump," a madly rhythmic Latin jam that makes nice use of flute, giving the song a balance of the gentle and forceful until it concludes in an explosion of crashing drums. On "Wounded Knee" the rage articulated in the drums is voiced by a narrator who calls out the historical mistreatment of Native Americans, comparing the failure to abide by treaties to genocide.

Finally, "Hotel Alyssa-Soussie, Tunisia" is the most revelatory moment on the album. Piling layer upon layer of djembe, conga, bass and bongo, the band reaches a crescendo where you can hear elements of house and hip-hop, the future being predicted in 1973.

Uniting funk, jazz, and Latin music like no other album before it or since, Afro Temple is a blinding set that represents the inclusive vision of Sabu at the peak of his artistic powers. That nobody has come close to replicating its impact speaks to the clarity of his vision.

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Released 1973 on Grammofonverket (Sweden).  Reissued by Hitland.

Selected Tracks:

All Camels Hump
My Cristina
Afro Temple

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