Let's be real. How many people in the world outside of their native Belgium know who Aka Moon is? The ratio could be staggering. One in just how many? How many of you reading this right now think their name means "also known as moon?" Wrong. The name, and aspects of their music, stems from their passion for the AKA Pygmies, with whom they lived
in the great forest of Central Africa in 1991. Absolutely world-class musicians, these guys operate on some kind of insanely artistic plane full of principle and integrity alien to the American musical way of life. I'm only assuming that, among many other lessons imparted from their world unto themselves, these AKA pygmies conveyed remarkable knowledge relating to time, percussion and rhythm- subjects that every musician in the band, and every guest on hand at this party, obviously cares very deeply about.
Thinking world music already? Somewhat. Thinking grant-receiving artistic types , no amps and a percussion back line a half mile long? No way. These guys rip and a lot of their music is extremely high energy and may be most accurately classified as -dare I say it- fusion. Oh my! The particular brand of excitement brought here by Aka Moon is compelling and its appeal broadbased. This is Aka Moon plus guitars, and they have friends in high places. Here's where the freaky part comes in. So do I, through my friendly neighborhood music scene. Two out of the three guys they picked call Boston home. David Gilmore now Brooklyn-based but from Cambridge , and Prasanna , Boston-based but from India, both of whom have released highly recommended discs recently. Rounding out the trio of guitars is Belgian tele-master Pierre Van Dormael , with whom Aka Moon has collaborated previously on their many Carbon-7 releases. Now, think of your favorite three guitarists on the planet and know that if Aka Moon had picked any one or all of them, the disc could not possibly be better than it is.
I actually listened to the music and scribbled a few notes without looking at the titles, only to discover that most contain homages to famous inspirations. But "Jimi's Three Words" owes much more compositionally to the opening of the way of Steve Coleman; so luckily, they've borrowed his guitarist and fellow-forward thinking rhythmatician, David Gilmore. See, David always knows what time it is, whether composing, playing along or fret melting, which he does here when allowed to utter the middle of the "Three Words". Each player is given ample time to show their juice on this odd -time rocker including altoist/composer Fabrizzio Cassol- his longest take on the disc here is full of the angular lines, use of intervallic structure, and progressions within a progression playing that Coleman's noted for. VanDormael follows with classic tele-toned, blues- laced improvisation - the influence of Stern on the note choices, style and tone is undeniable. For Gilmore's turn-no burn - the band goes vicious, morphing the odd-time riff over the bar line into a pummeling 4:4 rock vamp (turn this one up), complete with sequencer like, but heavy bass, for one of his many jawdroppers on the disc. Of the soloists statements on this tune, David's comes closest to kissing the sky while displaying the most ideas, which may just be the product of being the guy most ready to not think about them. This is the quality of his playing-a willing abandonment that goes beyond merely trusting intuition -wonderful tailspinning from which he is always capable of recovering - that continues to set him apart from some of his safer-playing downtown contemporaries. That being said, the guy who gets to go last, Prasanna, plays guitar, quite simply like nobody on the planet. Talk about being able to identify a guy in three notes! I don't know how he's doing it, but he sounds to be consciously executing quarter flat, quarter sharp- whatever microtones- all while incorporating western ideas into eastern virtuosity- and all on a conventional fretted Les Paul . Anyway, he manages to bring it all back down to earth while incorporating otherworldly phraseology into familiar source material (here, pentatonics).
With the change in track number to "The Last Call From Jaco", you realize these guys are compositionally astute, because quite simply, they have used the same exact riff and theme as the previous tune, letting it grow more spare and spacey. But it's only a track marker, after all, since the previous tune changed completely about halfway in, and on the way out only approximated how it had started. This is where I have to pause and note the contribution of Aka Moon's amazing section, St'phane Galland on drums and Michel Hatzigeorgiou on electric bass. The heavy hitting, polyrhythmic playing of Coleman's Gene Lake and Gilmore's Rodney Holmes comes to mind as a point of comparison to these ears, but Galland certainly has his own thing and his own touch happening, acutely technical skin work on par with the Bozzios and Chambers' of the world. About three minutes into this one, Galland shows he's as familiar with the intricacies of the highest levels of progressive rock drumming as with funk-fusion and odd-time styles, which he then revisits and magnifies upon in the succeeding "Scofield", and continues into the ensuing "From Influence to Innocence." Drum-heads looking for a new fave would do well to listen to this triumvirate of tunes before continuing their search. And while every bassist on the planet has been influence by Jaco, Michel Hatzigeorgiou deserves kudos for hiding it well, both in terms of having his own tone and his own solo style. He's used only once as a soloist, but more importantly, plays heavily into the often times riff-based, Colemanesque "cell"-like elements of Fabrizio Cassol's compositional method. Hatzigeorgiou's got a nice round sound, uses the fingers at all times, and intriguingly drops anchor in hotly unlikely spaces, toying gleefully and oh-so-hiply with Galland in the spaces between the beats.
"Jaco" turns into a feature for Gilmore, who again rolls phat tone, chromaticisn, and rhythmic displacement into a searing combination, which here , clearly harkens back to fusion's heyday while reinventing it's future. Gilmore's solo and decaying sax segue into "Scofield," which begins by reaffirming Galland's athleticism, Hatzigeorgiou's groove power and Cassol's funky fluidity. Gilmore and VanDormael trade sixteen bars, overlapping each other as their tradeoffs become shorter and more blues inflected then going out and angular again, Galland rolling to a boil underneath and then a solo.
"From Influence To Innocence" is introed by Prasanna , and by virtue of that alone, transports us all elsewhere. Rare is the player on any instrument that can so change your headspace and your heart rate in two bars. To me, the three minutes of soloing over the drone here are worth the price of the disc alone, let alone the ensuing odd time thrill ride he takes next with Galland and Hatzigeorgiou before Cassol fades into the mix. Hear the parts build-first single-note guitar shadowing sax then another guitarist adding harmony and then, the drums. Soon, with a trance like melodic line, provided by sax and guitar, the thing is rolling along at bazillion rpms and ready to break apart at the seams. We fall out of an open rocket door into ambient bed of three-way guitars that functions as the doorway to "Bill's Dream" a melancholy mood setting ballad more about the shoegazer stylings of alternate rock than any jazz vocabulary. Prasanna finally gets to solo in organic fashion over a somber passage utilizing an Aka Moon trademark device, the single bass note syncopating the measures. Prasanna weaves his magic, rooted firmly in carnatic Indian styles but embracing all musics and incorporating just the right dose of modernism to render it individualistic yet not overly-technique laden. Lines revolve and resolve, phrases are pinched and elasticized, note values are selected then changed. Worlds merge and vapors mingle when Prasanna plays. And how empathetically Gilmore answers Prasanna's thing by crafting a solo that wraps and falls gracefully back in on itself like wisps in a natural Fibonacci spiral. Fittingly, the band hands it back to Prasanna, who established a measure of ownership of this portion of the record back at the intro of "Innocence," which is a fitting indication of the level of listening that's happening here.
Of the rest, "Yang -Yin -Yang" deserves special mention in the "songs that have pushed and pulled the beat the most" hall of fame. "A La Luce di Paco-Act 1" serves as a beautiful raga introduction to the recording and to Prasanna, while I think his scariest solo passage comes 6:15 into "Act 2" unless it's Gilmore, in which case it's even scarier.
Without knowing their history, just listening to this recording will show you that Aka Moon has a collective mentality. In a perfect world, it wouldn't be a leap to see them as master collaborators, with writing and playing skills crossing the music over into elements of pop, alternative rock, DJ Culture or modern dance. For now, we'll have to settle for one of the fusion releases of 2002. Save the trip- you won't find this in any record stores. A little distribution and some airplay could go a long way toward letting the world in on the world class secret of AKA Moon. In the meantime, evidently, that's our job. Get it at De Werf or domestically here .