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Henry Cole and the Afro Beat Collective: Roots Before Branches

James Nadal By

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There is much to be said about a musician stepping out from his comfort zone as an accomplished and acclaimed sideman to record the music he hears in his head, never forgetting where he came from, but steadfast in focus of where he is going.

Henry Cole has rapidly acquired an impressive résumé as a first-call drummer for recording sessions and performance tours. The compilation of all original music on his first release as producer/leader, Roots Before Branches, was inspired by none other than Afrobeat master Fela Kuti, demonstrating that there is a vast uncharted territory left to explore.

The introductory refrains from "Aurea V." set the transcendental tone for an album where the melodic solo by saxophonist David Sanchez weaves against tribal drumming building to a turbulent midsection, and then back to a calm ending. Sánchez is featured on three other selections: "To Believe Without Seeing" and "Año 2010," both with poet/lyricist Hermes Ayala's passionate outcry of inner rebellion to outward revolution; and the stellar "No Eres Tu Soy Yo," with its chunking guitar counterbalance oozing genuine Afrobeat essence.

As might be expected, there is high intensity drumming—not to overdrive the tempo, but to define the desired acceleration. "Solo Dos Veces," is Cole at his best, pushing the band to a frenetic pace—past an eerie organ, to an idyllic sax solo by John Ellis. "Musica Para Un Sueño," initiates with a Motown soul bass, setting up a banquet of pure electro-funk. Guitarist Adam Rogers wails on the rock-driven "Una Para Isabel," dedicated to Cole's wife and collaborator. These represent different approaches on how to keep exuberance in balance within an album's context.

Cole's hometown of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico is honored in "Comienza." For years there has been debate on whether the bomba beat did actually originate from this area; nevertheless, Cole cleverly based this tune, complete with the mandatory call-and-response, on the historical hoyoemula bomba beat. He delves into Spanish formality with "Uncovered Fears," utilizing the vintage voice of poetess Mara Pastor set against a backdrop of classical strings depicting visionary romance.

As a brilliant primary release of a promising musician, Roots Before Branches draws deep into Cole's musical foundations and influences, leading to the conclusion that the best is yet to come.

Track Listing: Aurea V.; Trabajala; To Believe Without Seeing; Año 2010, No Eres Tu, Soy Yo; Comienzo; Una Para Isabel; Solo Dos Veces; Uncovered Fear; Musica Para Un Sueño; Solo.

Personnel: Henry Cole: drums, keyboards (2-10); John Ellis: tenor sax ; Billy Carrion Jr.: baritone sax ; Juan Jose “Cheito” Quinones: trumpet (1-9); David “Piro Rodriguez: trumpet (3); Josh Evans: trumpet (10); Soren Moller: Fender Rhodes (1-5, 7-10); Sean Wayland: Fender Rhodes (6); Egui Santiago: keyboards (1-5, 7-10); Roy Guzman: guitar (1-5, 9); Adam Rogers: guitar (7); Ricky Rodriguez: bass (2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11); Willy Rodriguez: bass (1, 9); Pedro Perez: bass (4, 5); Alberto “Beto” Torrens: bomba barril (1-5, 7-9); Obanilu Allende: plena panderos (6), voice (6), bomba barril (10); Bryant Huffman: shekere (1-5, 7-9); Reynaldo de Jesus: shekere (10); Hermes Ayala: voice (2-4); David Sánchez: tenor sax ( 1, 3-5,) alto sax (2); Luis Rosa “El Chupa”: baritone sax (4); Jenny Scheinman: first violin (9); Megan Gould: second violin (9); Karen Waltuch: viola (9); Noah Hoffeld: cello (9); Miara Pastor: poetry reading (9).

Title: Roots Before Branches | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Self Produced

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