The second release from this seven-piece ensemble seems quite purposeful. Subtitled A fusion of Nigerian and Cuban music rooted in Yoruba tradition, it explores the deep connection between West African Afrobeat and Afro-Cuban music channeled through the religious, ceremonial music of the Yoruba tradition of West Africa.
Purposeful? The detailed liner notes sure seem so. For example, they explain that the Yoruba are the largest single ethno-linguistic group in Nigeria and the second largest in Africa, and that Yoruba culture was connected with the west through the slave trade that brought West Africans to Cuba to work the sugar fields.
As dry as that may read, Explorations In Afrobeat explodes, dances and melts in your ear with sheer bliss. Two members of the septet, Matt Grundstad (percussion, lead vocals) and Adam Grosso (bass, vibes, vocals), studied in Cuba with members of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Grupo Afro-Cuba. The remaining fiveRyan Jeter (tenor saxophone, vocals), Austin Zaletel (alto saxophone, vocals), Mike Tallman (guitar, vocals), Josten Foley (drums, vocals) and Eric Quiner (keyboards, vocals)never lag behind, as they collectively whip through this set comprising the Orisha, the list of Yoruban gods each song ceremonially honors.
Flowing with thick, lusty rhythms that heat your blood, each musician's part interlocks so tightly with the others' that this music seems so coiled it might explode. Tallman strums and stabs guitar rhythms that sound both African (chiming juju in "Elegua ) and Caribbean ("Obatalá, with chords more familiar in Western ears from reggae).
African guitar and Afro-Cuban percussion blossom from electric organ swells of "Ogún, then every instrument lifts up and sings in a joyous, communal and primal rhythm, with horn charts that stab equal parts melodic and rhythmic punctuation. Jeter's tenor saxophone solo wails like a siren to stoke even higher the rhythmic flame of this dervish named for the Orisha of metal and war who "also represents all forms of energy. Wisely named, "Ogún is twelve crackling minutes of pure electricity.
"With this album we have done our best to take elements of Nigerian and Afro-Cuban music and combine them with our own ideas, notes Grundstad. "Our intent is not to 'steal' music from other cultures but to learn from them and share them with anyone who is willing to listen.