This album arose from a series of journeysgeographical, cultural and spiritual, but above all musicalundertaken by trumpeter and leader Byron Wallen, who first visited Morocco in 1996. The result of these journeys is a joyous and original record, fusing contemporary jazz with the music of the Gnawa musicians of Morocco.
The ten pieces of music on Meeting Ground tell the story of Bilal, a 6th century Abyssinian slave who was known for his beautiful singing. Released from slavery by Abu Bakr, Bilal was chosen by the Prophet Mohammed to call the faithful to prayer and is now regarded by the Gnawa as their spiritual father. His story is told through tunes and songs that interweave jazz, funk, swing, dub and Gnawa music to create a work that encourages moving from thoughtful reflection to dance and back with ease.
All the musicians play skillfully and sympathetically, although drummer Tom Skinner deserves special praise for his contribution. The singing and guimbri playing of Boujemaa Boubul, a Gnawa musician, gives the album its soul and its unique character, especially on the bluesy "Sailor of the Sands" and uplifting "Exhaltation." The funky "Captive Caravan" is perhaps the best example of Wallen's playing, as he underpins and weaves around Boubul's vocal lines. More unusually, Wallen also creates slightly spooky and mysterious sounds by playing shells on some tracks.
Both Wallen and saxophonist Tony Kofi are MOBO Award nominees, reflecting their abilities and status within the British music scene. Meeting Ground is dedicated to the late Andrew Hill, who called Wallen "one of my greatest discoveries of the Twenty-First Century," and to James Brown. The dedications reflect Wallen's wide musical interests, and the album itself offers some of the most original and enjoyable musical collaborations of recent years.
Personnel: Byron Wallen: trumpet, shells, samples, percussion; Boujemaa Boubul: vocals, guimbri, percussion; Tony Kofi: baritone and soprano saxes; Larry Bartley: bass; Tom Skinner: drums.