JuJu: In Trance
This is the third album from guitarist Justin Adams and singer/ritti player Juldeh Camara, and, as the saying goes, third time lucky. Not that Soul Science (Irl, 2007) or Tell No Lies (Real World, 2009) were disappointing, only that the duo's visceral mix of traditional Gambian music, jam band-informed jazz and avant rock has reached a new level with In Trance. Partly, this is down to the simple passage of time and the seasoning of style. More significantly, it comes from the expansion of the group from a trio, with drummer Martyn Barker, to a quartet, with bassist Billy Fuller andthe big eventnew drummer Dave Smith.
Any band drawing on African music for inspiration needs a drummer of rare sophistication and musicality, and Smith is perfect for the gig. As co-leader of the Loop Collective's Outhouse, he is part of one of London's most adventurous, and accessible, young jazz bands. As leader of the spin-off Outhouse Ruhabi, whose Ruhabi (Loop, 2009) and Live At Café Oto (Loop, 2010) were both made with an expanded lineup featuring five Gambian sabar drummers, he is the man behind the most fruitful collision of West African drum music and European jazz yet to surface.
You can hear the difference Smith's arrival has made to the group by comparing "Mariama Trance," one of two tracks made with Martyn Barker included on this albumboth previously released on the EP The Trance Sessions (Real World, 2010)and "Djanfa Moja," made with the new lineup. Both are extended, trance-centric tracks ("Mariama Trance" last 13:11 minutes, "Djanfa Moja" 14:47), and both will peel the socks clean off your feet, but Smith's creativity and finely controlled power, devastating when it is given full throttle, lifts the second track to giddy heights. Where Barker kept things cooking and moving forward, Smith does the same with, for JuJu, unprecedented invention, sinew and elegance. Smith and JuJu were made for each other.
Justin Adams' immersion in West African music has been as deep as Smith's and has been heard beyond JuJu: he produced Saharan blues group Tinariwen's excellent Aman Iman: Water Is Life (Independiente, 2007). Juldeh Camara is Gambian music: he was taught to sing and play the one-string ritti fiddle by his griot father, who was, so the story goes, in blues guitarist Robert Johnson crossroads style, himself taught to play directly by the djinn. Bassist Billy Fuller comes from a triphop (Massive Attack, Malachai) and industrialist (Beak) background, and, with Adams, has played with ex-Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant's North African-informed The Strange Sensation.
Every track on In Trance is a delight, but the album's crowning jewel is the aforementioned "Djanfa Moja." It is in two parts, each lasting around seven minutes. The first is centered around Camara, whose mesmeric, whirlwind vocal and ritti, over Smith's rapid fire Maghrebi beats, produce an impact as all-consuming as the guitar, viola and vocal combination on the Velvet Underground's 17 minute chemical-fest, "Sister Ray," from White Light/White Heat (Verve, 1968). The second part is instrumental, with occasional dub touches, and has Smith, still nailing it but using slower, more broken beats than before, more consistently foregrounded. This really is trance music, as in scrambling your synapses and taking you somewhere other.
File next to Club d'Elf's majoun-laced Electric Moroccoland/So Below (Face Pelt, 2011).
Tracks: Nightwalk; Waide Nayde; Djanfa Moja; Jombajo; Mariama Trance; Deep Sahara; Halanam.
Personnel: Justin Adams: electric guitar; Juldeh Camara: vocals, ritti, talking drum; Billy Fuller: bass (1-4, 7); Dave Smith: drums, percussion (1-4, 7); Martyn Barker: drums, cajon (5, 6).