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While the tag, “with Archie Shepp and Henry Threadgill” on the cover of Boom Bop might make pulses of a certain age quicken with anticipation, the two saxophonists don’t play together on the disc. However, the handful of appearances by each, on this bewitching set of Afrocentric music, provides the icing on a cake whose many layers seem injected with hallucinogens.
As befits someone whose professional resume includes work with Pee Wee Ellis, Muhal Richard Abrams, Steve Coleman and Trilok Gurtu, guitarist Bourelly brings an eclectic world-view to the table. With the great Abdourahmane Diop, from Senegal, on vocals and percussion, and a potent, uncluttered backdrop, much of the disc sounds like the Gary Bartz NTU Troop crossed with the Sun City Girls. On the hypnotic “Tara,” for instance, multi-tracking allows Bourelly to weave hard-edged, dirty blues licks with delicate wisps of electronic effects; the master plan is rigorously constructed, yet as spontaneous as the blink of an eye. On electric guitar, Bourelly’s huge, wah-wah’d runs on “Gumbe” are wide enough to contain a river; when he turns to acoustic for the ruminative “Root One,” the harmonic universe he creates manages to simultaneously summon the spirits of Jimi Hendrix, and the English folk icon, Nick Drake.
Shepp sounds as fluid as ever on “New Afro Blu” and “Invisible Indivisible,” where he plays off a guitar-bass-drums jam reminiscent of the boundary-pushing Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsys. Unlike other sideman work that’s found him rather superficially grafted onto the proceedings, Shepp fits perfectly into Bourelly’s sonic landscape, which is full of glistening, ethereal details. Threadgill is relegated to the ensemble for “Silent Rain,” but achieves active status on “Kinetic Threadness,” where his tensile, percussive interplay with Bourelly pulses like veins bulging in one’s neck. Chalk this disc up as an early candidate for the year’s best.