How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Jacques Schwarz-Bart has already achieved the dream that popped into his head over twenty years ago when he picked up a tenor saxophone on a whim during a vacation. He's now got a resume that includes the Berklee School of Music and stints with Roy Hargrove, Ari Hoenig, and Giovanni Hidalgo. But Schwarz-Bart has carried another dream for many years: to combine jazz with Gwoka, the three-hundred year old rhythmic tradition of Guadeloupe, his homeland. Soné Ka-La is the culmination of that dream.
"Gwoka comes from a central African word meaning "the drums. It has seven fundamental rhythms, and Schwarz-Bart has been fascinated with the sound since he first heard it at age four. He's been incorporating Gwoka into his writing since he was fifteen, when his primary instrument was guitar; Soné Ka-La lets Schwarz-Bart's love for that sound bloom full flower, even as it showcases his versatility as a player and composer. Be prepared, though: Gwoka may be over three centuries old, but Schwarz-Bart's musical feet are planted firmly in the 21st century.
"Papalé jumps out at the listener like a hungry jungle cat, spurred on by a relentless "war rhythm called Mendé. War seems far, far away as Milan Milanovic and Lionel Loueke lay down a funky dancing vamp and Schwarz-Bart hits the chorus hard, playing his tenor with an assist from a wah-wah pedal. Like most of the tracks on Soné Ka-La, "Papalé has an additional driver called mouth drums, which can only be described as beatboxing gone wild. The sound is almost tribal, but the wild vibe that fuels it feels like hard-charging hip-hop. Either way, the music gets your shoulders shimmying and your mind screaming, "let's party!
Schwarz-Bart isn't done with technological assists: his sax goes through a harmonizer on the growling title track, is righteously phased on the aptly-named "Drums & Bass. He also double-tracks airy flute on "Déshabillé over vocals by Jacob Desvarieuxthe founder of the Francophone zouk group Kassav, who has popularized Gwoka in Europe, West Africa and the Caribbean. Although the bells and whistles don't detract from the date, Schwarz-Bart's soulful tenor is best appreciated when he's playing in the clear, as he does on meditative pieces like "Ascent and "The Chains.
Outstanding performances abound on Soné Ka-Lamost notably from Loueke, bassist Mark Kelley, carnival band vocalist Jean-Pierre Coquerel, and an army of amazing percussionists (Schwarz-Bart's mother Simone chips in, too, contributing hushed poetry to the spiritual closer "Léwoz ). Milanovic is the key player though, his acoustic work is reminiscent of another Schwarz-Bart employer, Danilo Perez, and his sizzling Fender takes the music to the same electric place Flora Purim and Airto Moreira took us to in the 70's.
Soné Ka-La may have been a pet project for Schwarz-Bart, but the disc has a wonderfully infectious quality that makes it accessible to all. In a genre that frequently takes itself all too seriously, this kind of musical joy is always welcome.
Track Listing: Palalé; Soné Ka-La; Love; Toumblak; Ascent; Drums & Bass; Déshabillé; The Chains; Gwoka; Padjanbel; Descent; Pé La; Léwoz.