It’s been some years since the first Karl Hector release, and it’s known now that Mr. Hector is indeed the German producer and guitarist JJ Whitefield, ne Jan Weissenfeldt. Whitefield is the visionary behind the Poets of Rhythm and the Whitefield Brothers, the ensembles whose rough analog sound and return to the funk archetypes of the late 60s to early 70s paved the way for labels like Daptone, Truth & Soul, Timmion.
Whitefield, along with Thomas Myland and Zdenko Curlija, founded Karl Hector and The Malcouns in the early 2000s. Their debut, Sahara Swing, saw release on Now-Again in 2008. The album swung with influences from across the African diaspora and set the stage for a cult, but influential following. A grueling tour schedule made recording a follow up album to Sahara Swing quite the challenge, and as a result, the band opted to release limited edition, hand-silkscreened EP’s, which continued to show their deft handling of musics from Eastern and Northern Africa alongside Western psychedelia, jazz and funk.
Unstraight Ahead, the band’s second album, found the band exploring territories even outside of the expansive scope of Sahara Swing. On this album, the West African sounds of Ghana and Mali meet the East African sounds of Mulatu Astatke’s Ethiopian jazz and are tied together with the groove heavy experimentalism of The Malcouns’ 70s Krautrock godfathers: Can, of course, but also more obscure and equally adventurous groups like Agitation Free, Ibliss and Tomorrow’s Gift.
“We look to Middle Eastern funk and psychedelic fusions, and to various ethnic records for sound and phrasing,” Whitefield states. “We’re trying to combine the global experimentalism of Krautrock with the backbeat of funk.” This explains how songs in uneven meters – 5/4, 7/8 – always sound so accessible and natural on Unstraight Ahead. It’s mainly an instrumental affair, but guest artists appear throughout, from across the African diaspora to those from the worldly Krautrock forebears of their German fatherland: it’s Marja, daughter of Embryo founder Christian Burchard, whose vocals open Unstraight Ahead.
Theirs is music out of time, music that couldn’t have been made in the era its aural aesthetics reference, as its scope is so broad. But it’s music focused by funk – and an ambition to expand funk’s reaches.
Rodinia is a JJ Whitefield side project, quite different than anything that’s come from his oeuvre to date, but it follows in the line of the Poets of Rhythm’s great Discern/Define, as it reaches back to Krautrock’s experimental hey day and pushes its boundaries with a post-hip-hop approach.
The ambient sound Whitefield and his Rodinia collaborator – saxophonist and keyboardist Johannes Schleiermacher – reached for found itself morphing over the course of a year. What was originally recorded in a two-day studio lock-in, which found Whitefield and Schleiermacher hooking up “all our vintage synths (Korg MS-20, Moog Prodigy, Roland Juno 60, Jen SX 1000, Korg Polysix), triggering everything with a vintage Korg rhythm box, absorbing some mind altering substances and jamming out,” was later turned into two, side-long suites, with over-dubbed reeds, drums and guitar, and self-made Moroccan field recordings introducing the project on its Drumside, the album’s side-A.