Idris Muhammad’s 1974 album for Kudu Records was called Power of Soul – and it was a power that the drummer brought to all of his recordings over a three-decade period spanning 1970 through 1998. Cherry Red’s Robinsongs label has recently compiled a new anthology of the greatest works of Muhammad, who died on July 29, 2014 at the age of 74. The Very Best of Idris Muhammad: Boogie to the Top brings together 13 selections from his 1970s prime for producer Creed Taylor’s Kudu label.
Born Leo Morris in New Orleans in 1939, Muhammad took to music at an early age and initially gravitated towards R&B. He played with many Crescent City greats including Fats Domino, Eddie Bo, Lloyd Price, and the group that would become The Meters. By the early 1960s, word had spread of the young drummer, and he branched out to recordings in New York and Chicago for artists like Jerry Butler, Maxine Brown and Curtis Mayfield. Over the course of the sixties, Leo married La La Brooks of The Crystals, and converted to Islam, changing his name to Idris Muhammad. By 1969, he’d found his way to jazz label Prestige Records.
At Prestige, Muhammad appeared on nearly 170 albums and recorded two as a leader – 1970’s Black Rhythm Revolution and 1971’s Peace and Rhythm. On these albums, he bridged the gap between jazz and R&B, recording his own compositions alongside those by Wilson Pickett, James Brown and his wife La La under her new name of Sakinah Muhammad. In 1974, he departed Prestige for Kudu, the sister label of Creed Taylor’s CTI formed in 1971. With an artist roster also including Esther Phillips, Johnny Hammond, Hank Crawford, and Grover Washington, Jr., Kudu followed in CTI’s footsteps in its attempts to make jazz mainstream. But Kudu emphasized R&B, or soul-jazz, even more so than CTI.
On his Kudu debut Power of Soul, Muhammad was joined by CTI stalwarts including arranger, conductor and keyboardist Bob James, saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., guitarist Joe Beck, trumpeter Randy Brecker and percussionist Ralph MacDonald. The Jimi Hendrix-penned title track and the lengthy, mellow jam “Loran’s Dance” are reprised from Power of Soul. Muhammad went on to record three more LPs for Kudu, all of which are represented here. Three songs have been culled from 1976’s House of the Rising Sun including the traditional title track, the Brazilian melody “Baia” and the classical-inspired “Theme for New York City.” From 1977’s Turn This Mutha Out, this collection presents the title song as well as “Crab Apple” and “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” (featuring The Brecker Brothers). Both “Turn This Mutha Out” and “Could Heaven…” were successfully aimed at the disco/dance market, scoring Muhammad two R&B hit singles. His Kudu swansong was 1978’s Boogie to the Top, from which its title track and “Stick It in Your Face” have been culled.
Following his stint at Kudu, Muhammad continued to sporadically record for labels including Fantasy; he also returned to work as a busy sideman. Though he recorded his final album as a leader in 1998, his session work stretched into the new century. He also separated from La La Brooks in 1999; the couple had four children in addition to Muhammad’s one daughter from a previous marriage.
Robinsongs’ collection, newly remastered by Nick Robbins, adds three bonus tracks: the single edits of “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This,” “Boogie to the Top (Look Up)” and “Turn This Mutha Out.” Charles Waring’s liner notes bring Muhammad’s story up to date through his 2014 death. The Very Best of Idris Muhammad: Boogie to the Top, a fusion of jazz, R&B and dance, is available now from Robinsongs at the links below!
- Loran’s Dance
- Power of Soul
- House of the Rising Sun
- Theme for New York City
- Crab Apple
- Could Heaven Ever Be Like This
- Turn This Mutha Out
- Stick It in Your Face
- Boogie to the Top
- Could Heaven Ever Be Like This (Part 1) (Single)
- Turn This Mutha Out (Single)
- Boogie to the Top (Look Up) (Part 1) (Single)
Tracks 1-2 from Power of Soul, Kudu KU-17, 1974
Tracks 3-5 from House of the Rising Sun, Kudu KU-27, 1976
Tracks 6-8 from Turn This Mutha Out, Kudu KU-34, 1977
Tracks 9-10 from Boogie to the Top, Kudu KU-38, 1978
Track 11 from Kudu single 939, 1978
Track 12 from Kudu single 940, 1978
Track 13 from Kudu single 943, 1978