Grand Union Orchestra, which has mentored many young London jazz musicians over four decades, is approximately aligned with the grassroots organisations Tomorrow's Warriors and Kinetika Bloco. The longest established of the trio, Grand Union took wing in 1982, Tomorrow's Warriors in 1991, Kinetika Bloco in 2000. Made By Human Hands is a greatest hits compilation celebrating Grand Union's 40th Anniversary.
The ensemble was founded by trombonist, keyboardist, composer and community activist Tony Haynes, who continues to lead it today. Haynes' extra-musical mission is the promotion of a world free of racial and economic injustices through a multi-cultural form of orchestral jazz. From the band's inception, Haynes has worked tirelessly to this end, undaunted by chronic underfunding, and Grand Union has recorded a prodigious catalogue of often extraordinary music, in which what might be called Indo Jazz Fusion has been a particularly rewarding strand.
Alongside a nucleus of top-ranking jazz musicians, some of whom, such as trumpeter Claude Deppa and saxophonist Chris Biscoe, have been with Grand Union more or less since its formation, Haynes brings in guest singers and instrumentalists from other traditions on a project-by-project basis. Indian, Bengali, Chinese, Caribbean, South American, West African and Turkish players are among those who have figured in the lineup. Haynes engages with each tradition with scholarship and respect and this ensures that it is humanism in action rather than musical tourism or cultural appropriation.
The album touches down in Jamaica, Trinidad, Ghana, Guinea, Cuba, Puerto Rico, India, Brazil, Turkey, China, Bengal, Portugal and, of course, London. The sixteen tracks are all upbeat and up-tempo. Made By Human Hands is perfect party music and a joy from start to finish.
Love That Day; Kelele; Cano; Mexe Mexe; Halay; Thank God I'm Free; Ol' Lady; Can't Chain Up Me Mind; Nanouman; Nagin Been; Eleggua Ko Eleggua Ra; Baya Hamba; New Day; Bhangra Brass; Feelin' Nice; I Live In The City.
Collective personnel includes: Courtney Pine, Tony Kofi, Louise Elliott, Jason Yarde, Chris Biscoe, Fiona Burnett: saxophones; Claude Deppa, Shanti Jayasina, Byron Wallen, Kevin Robinson, Wendy Anderson: trumpets; Rick Taylor, Ros Davies, Tony Haynes; Adrian Sherriff: trombones; Tony Haynes: keyboards; Sadjo Djolo Koiate: kora; Valanga Khoza: kalimba; Vladimir Vega: tiple; Cemal Akkiraz: saz; Brian Abrahams, Josefina Cupido: drums; Ken Johnson: steel pans; Gerry Hunt: guitar; Andres Lafone: bass guitar; Rosamel Burgos: quena, charango; Baluji Shrivastav, Yousuf Ali Khan: tablas; Ketan Kerai: dhol; Alison Limerick, Gail Ann Dorsey, Sarah Laryea, Mario Joao Silveira, Mingo Rangel, Sabhat Akkiraz, Jonathan Andre: vocals; others.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz and editor of the style magazine Jocks & Nerds; he was previously the editor of Black Music & Jazz Review magazine; he is Afrobeat consultant for Partisan Records and Google Arts & Culture.