Babatunde Lea is one of those old souls. You know the type: wise and serene, blessed with a culturally diverse perspective, bubbling over with ideas and creative energies that strongly suggest theyve been this way before; someone deeply in touch with the spiritual essences. Such an impression is borne out in spades by Tundes newest entry in the growing tradition of Motema Music. Suite Unseen: Summoner of the Ghost is a journey through the spirit world powered by contemporary, deeply sculpted grooves and articulations specially crafted by this master percussionist; all delivered by a high-spirited crew of musicians.
Im not a religious man, but I do believe in spirit, that it intervenes in our lives in mysterious ways. So I thought with this record I wanted to pay homage to the spirits. This suite is five melodic vignettes that call on the spirits, culminating in [5th and final movement] Summoner of the Ghosts. I get more technically adept as I grow and keep practicing, but the one thing that Im really sure of about my playing is that I can call the ghosts. To label Babatunde Lea a multiple percussionist is to recognize the holistic, global approach and depth of his skills, as both trap drummer from whence he primarily operates on this disc as well as hand drums and miscellaneous percussions from diverse sources.
Broad acceptance and critical acclaim were universal for Babatunde Leas 2003 Motema Music debut Soul Pool. Heres just a sampling: Soul Pools is an exceptional, spirited effort by a gifted artist (JazzTimes magazine). A sterling disc with tight ensemble work (Philadelphia Daily News). A master of trap drums and hand percussion, veteran Bay Area jazz musician Babatunde Lea plunges deep into the musical riches of the African diaspora on Soul Pools (The San Francisco Bay Guardian). Trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy and pianist Hilton Ruiz are standouts among percussionist Leas studio octet, but its Leas supple, flowing drum work that is the ongoing focal point (Down Beat magazine). What you get is highly disciplined, tightly arranged, Jazz Messengers-influenced soulful post-bop thats propelled, rather than ruled, by its leaders formidable technique (LA Weekly). Soul Pools is a pungent gumbo of familiar, yet fresh musical flavors (The Hartford Courant).
Suite Unseen: Summoner of the Ghost follows in that same tradition, with the intriguing twists of an ancient concept: communing with the spirits. Leas five-part suite serves as the albums spiritual and creative centerpiece, bridged by the interconnective tissue of nine other evocative pieces contributed in the main by Leas potent bandmates; notable contributors include tenor saxophonist Richard Howell, with whom Lea has enjoyed a 15-year partnership, and the perennial poll winning trombonist and conch shell specialist Steve Turre. Pianist Glen Pearson, and bassists Geoff Brennan and Ron Belcher round out the cast. From the boisterous, uplifting groove of Ancestral Stroll to the infectious chant and call to the spirits of the closing Summoner of the Ghost, Babatunde Lea has crafted a journey rich with the seasoning that jazz master and one-time Lea collaborator Randy Weston refers to as cultural memory.