As Nigerian musicians go, Orlando Julius might not be as recognizable a name as Fela Kuti, but that has less to do with the quality of his output than the scarcity of it. He had an important hand in shaping the emerging fusion of Nigerian highlife and American R&B in the mid ’60s, followed by an unofficial status as an ambassador of that sound — now called Afrobeat — during an extended American tenure in ’70s. But the sax maestro and bandleader put out only a handful of albums that made it to international collectors’ circles, and left many of his rousing live-show standards unrecorded.
Thankfully Jaiyede Afro, Julius’s teamup with Malcolm Catto’s super-session psych-soul-funk-jazz group the Heliocentrics, does more than its share to make up for that. It stirs up long-brewing sounds from its deep-grooved yet soothing title cut — developed out of childhood memories of music his mother would play — to the resoundingly funky 11-minute vamp “Be Counted,” an Africa-to-America black pride anthem that still inspires long after its writing in 1976. Following their gigs backing up Ethio-jazz forefather Mulatu Astatke and scholar of Middle Eastern music Lloyd Miller, the Heliocentrics’ analog-studio sound stays faithful to Julius’s vintage Afrobeat precedent. They keep their wigged-out psychedelic tendencies in the margins, opting to stay smoothly in a pocket of James Brown/Africa 70 steadiness — though closer “Alafia” gives Julius’s exclamatory sax a welcome shot at careening through space. It’s not just a good (re)introduction to an underrated pioneer, but a fine recreation of everything that made his earlier, scarcer recordings so worth seeking out.