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Sonic Liberation Front, led by percussionist Kevin Diehl, straddles the space between Afro-Cuban music and free jazz. The music on the group's second release, Ashé a Go-Go , is filled with infectious primitive rhythms, but what Diehl layers over those beats is another beast entirely. Utilizing an up to four-piece horn section over the percussion and bass, Diehl puts to work some of the lessons learned from his studies with free jazz drummer Sunny Murray, and demonstrates that one can blend two seemingly disparate styles into a cohesive whole.
The compositions are more about rhythm and harmony than they are about change. The pieces, in fact, all revolve around groove vamps established by the percussion section, which incorporates a variety of hand drums in addition to a more traditional drum kit, and bass, played by Andy Gonzalez, brother of trumpeter Jerry. The rhythms would be completely hypnotic if it weren't for the more extroverted horn passages that Diehl has written, and the more expressionist soloing, although with "The Sirens," the horns create a lusher ambience.
What differentiates Sonic Liberation Front from other cross-cultural fusions is the absolute authenticity of the percussionists. Led by Chuckie Joseph, a Yoruba cultural scholar, Diehl and Julio Berrios create a sound whose primitive nature creates a landscape that reaches back while at the same time looks to the future. And while the horn players are newcomers to the larger scene, two in particular are worth watching: tenor saxophonist Terry Lawson, whose brash solo style is reminiscent of Albert Ayler; and trumpeter Kimbal Brown, whose roots seem to lie in Don Cherry territory.
Breaking up the program is a simple folk song, "Agua Dulce," a solo feature for Joseph, who accompanies the traditional lyrics with only an acoustic guitar, creating a beautiful, child-like respite from the more rambunctious proceedings.
There have been other cross-cultural blends in the same general vicinity as Ashé a Go-Go , in particular British saxophonist Trevor Watts' Moire Music Drum Orchestra, but Sonic Liberation Front, while equally rooted in the West African rhythms, feels looser, more relaxed and generally more exploratory. Certainly the horns lean more towards an extroverted sense of freedom. "Seize the Time" starts with a catchy theme and relaxed groove, but as Lawson's solo builds the whole thing seems to break down into a maelstrom of free playing all the more remarkable for ultimately finding its way back to the groove for the last quarter of the tune.
Ashé a Go-Go represents a unique cross-cultural blend, asserting that the primitive can be mixed with the modern, the simple with the complex, the naïve with the sophisticated.