Sunday, February 1, 2009

In review--Griot Meets Jazzman

Ablaye Cissoko + Volker Goetze

Imagine the clear tones of a jazz trumpet mingling with the shimmering notes of the West African harp, (kora) with no other distractions. While there are many West African-European or North American fusion projects, many worthwhile, this is the first time I have heard jazz trumpet along side the kora. The result of this musical marriage falls nothing short of spectacular.

I know little about jazz trumpeter Volker Goetze and Griot kora player Ablaye Cissoko since I only just heard of them a couple of weeks ago. However, I have become intimate with this recording, Sira (named after Ablaye's daughter). The trumpet playing reminds me of some of Miles Davis' work, but also Terrance Blanchard from New Orleans. The kora playing is also masterful and breathtaking as are Ablaye's vocals. The musical passages played on horn, kora or sung possess thoughtfulness and eloquence. Some of these passages also play in my thoughts a long time after the disc has stopped spinning.

I think this is one of the best West African-jazz fusion projects I have heard. It is straight forward with each musician sticking to his musical tradition and yet, exchanging integrity, beauty and a passion for music at every turn. This uncluttered recording allows the trumpet and kora to share the spotlight. And you could feel like a global citizen just listening to these two worlds meld into one.

It kind of makes you wonder what would have happened if Miles Davis had traveled to Mali or another West African nation back in the 1960s and discovered the griot tradition...

I have found this recording relaxing and balancing, as well as, inspiring.

In review--Sweet as Honey

Sweet Honey in the Rock
Experience 101
Appleseed Recordings

It is hard for me to imagine someone who has not heard of the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. This group of African-American women vocalists has been around for over 35 years dishing up a delicious brew spiked with African wisdom and mother comfort. Sweet Honey in the Rock's Experience 101 teaches children how to live, grow and become well-rounded world citizens. The songs are aimed at children, but the child in each of us will be delighted by these a cappella tunes backed by hand percussion.

Although Sweet Honey in the Rock precedes a cappella and vocal polyphony groups such as the Italian ensemble Faraualla and the Belgian-based Zap Mama, comparisons would not be too far fetched. Sweet Honey in the Rocks has more in common with Zap Mama than Faraualla, but the singers possess the verve and passion of both ensembles. These women, based out of Washington DC, also share much in common with the West African griot tradition. Besides being able to sing in a variety of genres, these women are also storytellers and keepers of age old wisdom. They sings about respecting elders, the role of a natural healer (herbalist), human rights, human dignity, about Spirit and world citizenship. They spread social consciousness, sweet as honey to some, hard as a rock to others.

Certainly children can benefit from all these lessons, but the adult world could use some reminders from these vocalists as well. Some times we too throw tantrums and forget how to play nice in the sandbox. And if we forget our ABC's and how to communicate with respect, these ladies got that covered too.

This brew contains gospel, jazz, hip-hop, reggae and even a little bit of samba on the track 4 U 2 Know As U Grow. This fun and colorful album educates, informs and entertains children of all ages while featuring polyphonic vocals that lift the rafters. If you and yours want peace in your life, look no further than Experience 101. After 35 years, Sweet Honey in the Rock has a lot of experience to share with the rest of us.