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Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng [KKO], a master drummer from Ghana, has become a well-known member of the world jazz community through performances with a wide variety of some of the music’s most celebrated figures – including Claudia Acuna, Pheeroan akLaff, Anthony Braxton, Roy Hargrove, Jay Hoggard, Cecil McBee, Max Roach, Randy Weston and Reggie Workman, among others – as well as his regular Monday percussion classes at the Jazz Gallery. On Afrijazz he presents a varied program of original compositions based on traditional African rhythms presented in their purest forms and juxtaposed with elements of jazz and other modern musics, creating an uniquely personal message that is both spiritual and celebratory.
African music is distinctive for its purposeful social nature with many songs ritually related to both everyday and eventful aspects of life. On Afrijazz Obeng offers percussion pieces incorporating hand and stick drums; a variety of bells, shakers, and rattles; and a vibrant voice on tracks such as “Greetings,” “Message,” “Worship,” and “Thank You,” which are associated with common acts of humanity. On “Kids-Konko-da,” a striking modern high life outing, KKO performs on oprenten drums (the instrument he plays solo on “Oprenten #6”), with a sextet comprised of Paul Austerlitz (bass clarinet), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet and flugelhorn), Bill Lowe (trombone), Dominic Kanza (guitar) and Wes Brown (bass), to instrumentally tell the story of a day at an African marketplace – sounding surprisingly similar to the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Austerlitz is also heard on a Dolphy-esque duet with Obeng’s talking drum in a haunting rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight.” Jay Hoggard plays xylophone for a duet with KKO on “Ghana Gumbo,” a polyphonous piece featuring the popular Ewe drumming styles that have influenced much of modern minimalist music.
Two extremely likable numbers with vocal chorus will probably be the album’s most popular songs for many. The funky “Akampa,” featuring a call and response dialogue between Obeng and Rani Arbo, is traditional harvest music from the upper region of Ghana, utilizing a rhythmic pattern familiar to many from Manu Dibango’s pop hit “Soul Makossa.” “Fine Fine Baby,” with a lyric based on an African proverb, has the fun and feel of a college fraternity chant. The repetition of the ironically respectful refrain, “Fine fine baby, Fine as your mother... Your mother... Your mother," is likely to appeal to both the young and old.