Quick and to the Point: African jazzistic vocal lusciousness.
Although seldom fully appreciated, musical expressions often evidence a remarkable bond with the cadences, inflections, harmonic and melodic character of the languages spoken by their producers and interpreters. Africa’s premiere position amid the world’s rhythmic bequest, for example, is not merely coincidental. Many African languages are percussive in nature, like the West Cameroonian Bamileke languages, of which Medumba is best represented in this recording. When such percussiveness is engaged so blatantly with sublime melodic resources from various sources such as Western classical music, jazz and highlife, the results are as pleasing and deep. That’s Song Zin’....
How so? Well, allow me to explain. The rich 16 compositions featured in this recording cut a wide swath of textures, tempos and temperaments ranging from McFerrinsque vocal material to Afro Cuban guaguancó with salsified connotations and on to various other African musical hyperlinks. At times singer, author and arranger Gino Sitson exclusively relies on vocal layering. “Ngoyak',” “Pretty C,” “Vocassiko,” “Passing,” “Yopougon (Poy Tyci),” and the title cut are vocally layered Sitson compositions. All implement, for example, African choral and tribal vocal techniques and styles. The opener resembles an undisturbed walk on an African savannah while witnessing the unfolding drama of life and death. “Pretty C” features playful vocal flickers over a recurring percussive vocal riff. The vigorous percolations on “Vocassiko” are enchanting and quite entertaining. This side of the album is particularly satisfying and it should have appeal for several audiences.
The rest of the album is presented through different sound registers and instrumentations. The personality, so to speak, of this side of the recording is mostly Africanized jazz. From lissome piano solos in “Lovely Dany-Jo” and “Paper" to the poignant saxing of Jean-Baptiste Dobiecki, the cello- led laments of the highly meaningful “Bi Nyaï” and “400 Years After...” and the infectiously danceable “Lensisn” –with its sweltering Mario Canonge piano montuno and punchy tenor saxophone– Song Zin’... achieves its musical goals.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.