Sad to say, I'm only catching up to Idris Muhammad now, the week after his passing. I enjoyed this archival Wax Poetics interview—"See, I'm a natural drummer."
A quick online trawl led me to a few choice items:
One of those monster inside/outside (or, more accurately, oblivious-to-the-division) line-ups—Don Pullen, Sam Rivers, Arthur Blythe, Chico Freeman, Nathan Davis, Santi Debriano—that reminds you how many great jazz allegiances were forged in the ’80s and ’90s. This group, known as Roots, made a few records, but as far as I can tell, the lineup above only appears on 1993's Stablemates. (Checking out Roots reminds me that I really need to spend some time with The Leaders, another roughly contemporary collective that featured Blythe and Freeman.)
I grabbed this record, Kabsha, from 1980, after sampling it on iTunes, and it's exactly what I hoped it would be: lean, swinging, funky, unfussy, beautifully recorded small-group jazz. The quartet lineup indicated on the cover (Muhammad, George Coleman, Pharoah Sanders and Ray Drummond) sounded fascinating, but I'm almost glad that the two saxists only appear together on one track (plus an alternate take). There's just something about a sax-bass-drums trio, especially when your focus is the drummer. Highly recommended.
I'm also intrigued by this:
Much as early Lifetime or Mahavishnu Orchestra seems to represent fusion before "Fusion," this Muhammad album—featuring Grover Washington, Bob James and other crossover/cutout-bin staples—seems to represent smooth (or pop, if you prefer) jazz before Smooth Jazz. I feel that with nearly any style, the embryonic, before-it-had-a-name incarnation is generally worthwhile, and this is no exception: I love it. At this stage of the game, the smoothness is so tasty—and, it must be said, Muhammad's flow so, yes, natural—it feels almost punk.
What other Idris Muhammad do I need to hear?