Guitarist/Producer JJ Whitefield, of Poets Of Rhythm and Whitefield Brothers fame, founded Karl Hector & The Malcouns in 2007 with drummer Zdenko Curulija.
Their debut album, Sahara Swing, saw release on Now-Again/Stones Throw in 2008 and already features Whitefield’s long time collaborator and Poets Of Rhythm singer Bo Baral, now a permanent member of the band.
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 a 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 1970s Krautrock godfathers: Can, of course, but also more obscure and equally adventurous groups like Agitation Free, Ibliss and Exmagma. Combining the global experimentalism of Krautrock with the backbeat of funk 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: Marja, daughter of Embryo founder Christian Burchard, whose vocals open Unstraight Ahead also plays Keyboards in the Karl Hector live band.
There 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.