Will Schube is waiting for Albert Ayler’s Holy Ghost.
Being referred to as a “Kendrick Lamar collaborator” would seemingly be exhausting for a world class musician. So goes the life of a career session player. If this was Josef Leimberg circa To Pimp a Butterfly, he has surely escaped that monolithic presence with the release of his excellent Astral Progressions. The album, released in October, is getting a much deserved second life after the digital download release (with accompanying artwork) of the record’s single, “Interstellar Universe.” The track features Kamasi Washington and is a furious combination of flurried percussion and a Shaft-like pulse. Leimberg takes a page from his guest contributor, utilizing a full choir that scales mountainous octaves as if they’re nothing more than a breezy walk in the park. Washington solos all over the track, creating beauty out of chaos in a way few others can.
Astral Progressions was the first release from Alpha Pup subsidiary World Galaxy, a label quickly establishing itself as the premier stomping ground for forward thinking jazz musicians. They just released Miles Mosley’sUPRISING, and are set to release Ronald Bruner Jr.’s Triumph in March. While Leimberg isn’t strictly associated with the West Coast Get Down in the way Washington, Bruner, and Mosley are, all four share a spiritual connection in their appreciation and embrace of cosmic jazz music.
From the album title and tracklisting alone, it’s clear Leimberg is of a similar ilk as these musicians—players spoon-fed a diet of Coltrane and Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Pharaoh Sanders. Leimberg even takes a crack at Davis on Astral Progressions, covering “Lonely Fire” from the prince of darkness’ Big Fun. The original is lonely and haunted, opening with Davis’ pure tone calling and responding to keyboard vamps and sitar flourishes. Leimberg’s version is relatively faithful, although he surrounds his horn with clutter and noise coming from every corner; it’s less meditative, more assaulting and arresting in its beauty. This is what Leimberg and his fellow World Galaxy labelmates do so well. They find peace in the noise and life-affirming yells in silence.
Leimberg’s debut effort effortlessly blends experimental jazz with hip-hop tinged fusion, creating an album both distinct in its originality and endearing in its subtle manipulation of new jazz trends. It’s what we’ve come to expect from World Galaxy and the new West Coast sound, but like each release surrounding it, Astral Progressions is its own beast. Leimberg is now wholly out of the shadow of those he has worked with. It’s just a shame it has taken us this long to know him by anything other than his name.