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Universal Supersession: Abracadabra

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You could spend a lot of time debated what music this is. It isn’t jazz, although the fluttering trumpet fits in that category. There’s a lot of funk in this sound, but there’s also oriental scales and Moroccan instruments. And there’s rapping – but a lot of it’s in German! So what is it? It’s different – stop the debate and start the disc.

You first hear the gembri, an exotic string instrument played here like a bass. The sound is doubled by a fat funk bass, and very sharp drums recorded with no echo. Bassist Reginald Worthy (he’s played for Ike & Tina Turner) starts “Mahoma” with a verse that’s no quite rap – it’s more like a spoken song lyric, as from rap’s early days. An electric sitar rings out a sinuous twang, and trumpeter Josef Gralak blows some James Brown riffs. A second voice comes in with a more conventional rap, full of the singer’s sexual prowess and lots of words I can’t use here. The sound keeps getting thicker; all this was recorded live, and the musicians are clearly enjoying themselves. There’s a brief solo on the gembri, which sounds like the Indian rabat (heard on Yusef Lateef albums), then comes the third verse. This is also a rap, but the voice (guitarist Eugen De Ryck? The credits aren’t clear) does it in German! I don’t know what he’s saying, but it sounds very cool and full of ! attitude. The verse ends, and we get some wah-wah guitar, a snaky solo, and what sounds like tribal chants. The end is abrupt, and takes us by surprise.

“Jabakro” begins on an airy synthesizer, and another German rap from De Ryck. His rap is surprisingly effective; it’s said very fast, which again recalls the early days. He’s backed by more chanting, airy guitars, and lots of percussion. Gralak’s horn is mellow this time; the smooth tone is liquid and floats in the background. The next singer is gembri player Abdelmajid Domnati, whose rich voice gives everything an exotic flavor. It’s more brittle than the last track, and over before you know it.

A David Bowie-like voice opens “Abracadabra”, which quickly becomes a James Brown funkfest. Like many J.B. numbers, what’s said is less important than how it’s said. The bass is deep and round, and the trumpet blasts hard and loud. This is closer to jazz than the other tracks, sounding a bit like T.J. Kirk. But those guys were never this funky.

Things get their most tribal on “Somayi”, which is Domnati’s showcase. Gembri and metallic rattles fill the air as the simple chant begins. De Ryck’s guitar comes in and the chant resumes, sounding lighter this time around. After a short English rap (maybe by Gralak) the bass kicks in, and Domnati returns, with the same chant now sounding like a funk riff. What can I say? It defies category.

“Jam Hey” is just that, a loose jam riff without the density of the other tracks. “Yirgeda Wayi” is Worthy’s number, sounding like Jimi Hendrix as bass and gembri pound a heavy rhythm. It’s a call to party, with Supersession being the star of the show. As the track progresses, guitars swarm and a chant develops behind Worthy, who dedicates the number “to my homeboys in Hamburg.” Where “Somayi” turned an ethnic tune funky, this goes the opposite direction. It’s a neat variation , with the same taste.

“Soyi Bolila” fades in on a 5/4 beat; the accent is on the 4 beat, which makes the time sound different than it normally does. This one is relatively sparse; heavy drums, a propulsive line on the gembri, and some nice trumpet, muted this time. The group opens with the chant “We are one, one nation; we are one, one world.” A few minutes of this and Domnati comes in with a soulful chant; the rest of the track is his. It’s slower than his turn on “Somayi” but it has the same feel. De Ryck has an extended guitar solo, and we get another flavor – psychedelic, full of wah-wah and tasty feedback. The gembri comes back with a vengeance, and precedes the end with a forceful solo.

Gralak, sounding relaxed with the mute, opens “Adaili”, a song which is part reggae and part something else. This is quite loose, with call-and-response chanting, and Gralak’s most prominent part, sounding quite warm as the call of “Don’t cry” fades into the distance.

This is worth hearing for many reasons. The unusual instruments sound great together, the funk is thick, and the beat compulsive. If your ears are open, this might be for you.

Record Label: Mel Bay Records

Style: Funk/Groove


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