110

Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng: Afrijazz

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
It's a sure sign when you can identify a musician's country of origin a mere twenty seconds into a recording. Especially when the opening consists of only bells and wood blocks! Well, maybe that's not such a big deal here, since interlocking drums (or what Westerners might call percussion) are the signature feature of traditional music from Ghana.

Ghanaian drummer Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng has a very expansive view of his place in the African diaspora, drawing from New Orleans, Jamaica, Brazil, Cuba, and New York as much as his homeland. The range of styles on Afrijazz testify to his open-mindedness. About half are pure drums (or drums with vocals); the rest expand to more typical jazz instrumentation.

The first three pieces firmly establish Obeng's identity on the drums. The solo "Greetings" lays down a peppery three-way conversation that plays with pitch and timbre; "Oprenten #6" challenges the listener to find the melody and harmony Obeng channels through the so-called "talking drums," exploiting their flexible musical language. To my ears, a tuned drum is worth ten of the other kind. Finally, "Message" expands to a percussion quintet with proportionally thicker texture and a heavy Brazilian influence.

When the jazzy "Kids-Konko-da" hits, horns immediately signal a turn toward the Caribbean. The calypso introduction blends a horn fanfare with criss-crossing guitar riffs. Taylor Ho Bynum steps to the front with a heavily vocalized cornet solo that dashes in and around, growling and whispering, riding across the beat. Whatever changes the piece may endure over its ten minute duration, it retains a strong dance-worthy character. Obeng's solo near the end is eerily melodic.

Later on the leader nods obliquely to Monk on "Round Midnight," with the most unusual combination of bass clarinet and talking drum. Paul Austerlitz's clarinet playing is refined and paced; Obeng balances him with an intuitive combination of rhythmic and harmonic elements. "Worship" takes seven musicians on the road to holy Mount Zion, relatively low in energy despite the mass of the assembled crowd. The trance-like lyrics: "I really really love to worship Jah!" Any questions, mon?

Given that Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng is the kind of master drummer who sees a role for his instruments in almost any setting, Afrijazz is pure rhythm from start to end. But the leader's continual efforts to keep his percussion melodic—plus his inclusive world view, and the regular involvement of easily recognizable jazz elements—set this record apart. Five years since his first record (the solo disc Awakening ), he has expanded his sound dramatically. I highly doubt we have heard the end of this story.

Visit Innova Recordings on the web.


Track Listing: Greetings; Oprenten #6; Message; Kid's-Kondo-Da; Akampa; 'Round Midnight; Ghana Gumbo; Fine Fine Baby; Worship; Thank You.

Personnel: Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng: drums, percussion, vocals (all tracks); William Lowe: trombone (4,9,10); Jay Hoggard: xylophone (7), vocals (8); Wes Brown: bass (4,9,10); Dominic Kanza: guitar (4,9); Paul Austerlitz: clave (3), bass clarinet (4,6,8,9,10), axatse (8); Michael Veal: drum set; Scott Kessel: vocals (8); Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn (4,10), trumpet (9); Rani Arbo: vocals (9,10); Jeff Penn: gankoqui (3), apentema (8); Gloria Koomson: axatse (3), clave (8); Ismail Lawal: gankoqui (3), calabah drum (5), drum set (8).

Title: Afrijazz | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Innova Recordings


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The Study of Touch CD/LP/Track Review The Study of Touch
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 20, 2017
Read Another North CD/LP/Track Review Another North
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Gledalec CD/LP/Track Review Gledalec
by John Sharpe
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Flux Reflux CD/LP/Track Review Flux Reflux
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Christmas With Champian CD/LP/Track Review Christmas With Champian
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Harmony of Difference CD/LP/Track Review Harmony of Difference
by Phil Barnes
Published: October 18, 2017
Read "Trinity One" CD/LP/Track Review Trinity One
by Geannine Reid
Published: May 31, 2017
Read "Two Hands, One Heart" CD/LP/Track Review Two Hands, One Heart
by Roger Farbey
Published: February 8, 2017
Read "Mission Cimbalom" CD/LP/Track Review Mission Cimbalom
by Geannine Reid
Published: September 7, 2017
Read "Mata Hati" CD/LP/Track Review Mata Hati
by Dave Wayne
Published: March 10, 2017
Read "Confidences" CD/LP/Track Review Confidences
by Jack Bowers
Published: February 3, 2017
Read "The Imperfect Sea" CD/LP/Track Review The Imperfect Sea
by Mark Sullivan
Published: May 4, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.