In most cases the sum is greater than the parts, the Washington, D.C. based quintet called Siné Qua Non is a fine musical example of musical synergy. Led by bassist Michael Bowie
, Siné Qua Non draws from many styles to create their group sound. Bowie's vision for the group is in building musical community from the strengths and unique backgrounds of each player. On this point, Bowie notes, "That's what started this whole thing for me. This group, and my position within it, has so little to do with simply playing music. In a community, people have certain roles, and each of those roles matters. As a composer-bandleader I could be dictatorial, but that's not the way it happens in a thriving community. I'm a humanist at heart. What compels me is to utilize the gift I've been given to tell a larger story. That's what I want to convey to the world through the music, through my pen, through the band's action and involvement in bringing a sense of hope and unity. That's the only reason I began doing this."
The quintet is comprised of Victor Provost
, on steel pan, whom effortlessly navigates his chromatically pitched percussion instrument, producing a very even and pleasing tone. Multi-reedist Lyle Link
brings a high rate of energetic vibration to the group sound and always seems to be reaching for something more in his playing. Drummer Mark Prince
provides the rock solid propulsion for the quintet and is able to match and push the energies in the group, while maintaining clarity and feel. Adding an additional layer of rhythms is percussionist Sam Turner
his ability to fills the spaces and layers in the music is perfect, always listening and commenting only when needed. Bowie rounds out the bottom on bass and his role of harmonic time keeper is essential to the group's cohesive sound and he always keeps the group energy focused and moving forward with clarity of motion.
Ultimately then, the bands sonic activities reflect not a genre, but a way of lifea music of the world, for the world, by the world and that world is represented on their latest album, Simple Pleasures
(Transoul). The quintet's debut album is full of energy and creative compositions that traverse musical styles and languages. "Trouble in Easton (Xeno Trilogy Part II)," begins the pleasure with the clear ringing motif from Provost's steel pan. Bowie, Turner and Prince enter with an unexpected spikey funk groove that is full of energy and provides the foundation for the call and response melodic figures between Provost and Link. The composition is full of agile feel changes and a winding form that the group executes flawlessly. Provost's steel pan solo is excellent and Link follows suit with an inspired saxophone solo that is followed by Prince's soloing between a melodic tutti figure. The original motif returns with variations of an angular ensemble passage the builds to an ending.
"Azulejos" starts with an excellent bass solo by Bowie followed by Provost joining him to state a Moorish/Arabian flavored melody. The band finally settles in on a hard groovin' 6/8 feel in which Provost unfolds his solo story while the ensemble supports, comments and most of all listens. After Provost's statement, the band fades to allow Bowie and Provost the space to setup the restatement of the melody and a satisfying feeling of ending a musical journey is achieved.
The key to the success with this project in undoubtedly Bowie's strong compositional skills, each track is full of surprises, whether it is a beautifully written melody as in "La Danza Misteriosa," or the methodical unfolding of subtlety orchestrated melodies in the sparkling title track, there is a sense of cohesion and conciseness that pervades in each tune. The last cut "Mastermind" features the rapping of wordsmith (and noted hoofer) Leo Manzari. Bowie says, "It's a call to action, and a sobering reminder that no matter how much we accomplish in this life, simple pleasures matter above all."
If you're a fan of six-string bass and steel pan, this album is for you. The unique instrumentation of Siné Qua Non is very refreshing with a drum set, percussion, steel pan and bass, with wood winds and sporadic vocals, there is certainly something for everyone. With so much percussion in this ensemble, groove and time feel keeps the revelries interesting.
Trouble In Easton (Xeno trilogy pt.II); Enfance; Fragile; Azulejos; Beautiful Land; Qumba; Beautiful Coda; LaDanza Mysterioso; Preludio; Simple Pleasures; Mastermind.
Michael Bowie: bass; Victor Provost: steel pan; Lyle Link: multi-reeds; Mark Prince: drums; Sam “Seguito” Turner: percussion.