To the Yoruba people of West Africa (and their Cuban relations in the new world), the very spirit of existence is a primordial life force known as Ashé. Together with a group known as the Sonic Liberation Front, drummer Kevin Diehl has very consciously tapped into this energy. The group's first record, 2001's Water and Stone , was a widely acknowledged idiosyncratic landmark, drawing from both Afro-Cuban roots and the jazz tradition. Ashé A Go-Go continues in a similar vein, hanging its weight on the same hooks.
Those hooks include a brief touch of ambient electronics, nearly constant interlaced drums, and front-line horns, with vocals added here and there to keep things grounded. The title track presents a typical blend, opening with shimmery gongs (presumably part of the "ambient electronics"), proceeding through a relatively straightforward, though oddly organized theme on saxophones. (This part brings to mind the conjoined twin leads that Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry introduced decades ago. The harmonic and timbral flexibility of that era's free jazz recurs through the record.)
A couple of minutes along, the rhythm section kicks in with vivid interlocking patterns, emphasizing the power of West African (and Afro-Cuban) drumming to convey a pulse without stating it directly. An alto saxophone comes to the foreground midway through with a fluttering solo over a repeated bass accompaniment, sounding a cry of welcome for the call-and-response vocals that follow. It's a manifesto of cultural fusion, more African than American, but too mixed up to be broken down that easily in any case. Don't go looking for anything close to the usual Latin jazz; this is deep-roots stuff.
Most of the seven tracks feature four or more musicians in a similar configuration, with very prominent drumming by Diehl & company. Sometimes the rhythm is very straightforward (as with the chekere of "The Sirens"), but it's usually kinked up in a traditional Afro-Cuban way. One key reference point, especially for the larger groups, is Cuban pianist Omar Sosa's own integrated approach to jazz and the African diaspora.
The three pieces with vocals stand out as the high points of the recording, probably because they're so effectively grounded. Chuckie Joseph sings "Agua Dulce" and accompanies himself alone on guitar, echoing the open harmonies and root-centric folk music that's still popular in West Africa today. On "Gema Oculta" ("hidden gem"), the lyrics intone a mystical double entendre: "tienes la llave / ahh, por que no abres la puerta?" ("you have the key / ahh, why don't you open the door?").
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