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An homage to ancestral spirits sets the context for Babatunde Lea's Suite Unseen: Summoner of the Ghost. The drummer/percussionist and educator has created a suite with a unique jazz flavor, complemented by additional musical textures and held together by a spiritual overtone. The stylistic nuances together generate an imaginative piece of music that is unpredictable yet connected at the same time. Quiet simply, it all fits together.
The Suite Unseen is broken up into five separate movements with other interspersed compositions written mainly by the other musicians on the recording. "Ancestral Stroll brings in the listener with a strong percussive bass line by Geoff Brennan, with the rest of the band joining in the summons of the spirits. Who are those spirits? They would include some of Lea's African-American jazz heroes, family members, and other friendly souls.
At one point "Motivation borrows a bit from Freddie Hubbard's "Crisis, and it has the same feel as the bridge. "A Song For Ani is a gentle ballad where each soloist, especially pianist Glen Pearson, contributes few chosen notes equally. "The Bay Area's Afro-Latin Funky Love Shuffle includes all the elements that its descriptive name implies. Saxophonist Richard Howell leads a catchy rendition of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain with an easy beat sustained by Lea and percussionist Kevin Jones. The ending of this tune includes a distinct African vocal component to provide yet another nuance to the song and the recording itself.
Steve Turré is a logical choice as special guest on this recording. On his Sanctified Shells (Antilles, 1993), Turré explored a similar format by creating a split suite entitled "African Shells that also encompassed spiritual calls using colorful instrumentation. "Spirit of the 'Wood', the third movement of Babatunde Lea's suite, unleashes Turré's unique improvisation on the conch shells.
The short vocal piece "Chants from Home, which includes a spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, leads the way to the suite's fourth straight-ahead piece, "From Home. In the context of the spiritual call, names of legendary icons such as Miles Davis are called out in the closing Maceo Parker-styled funky movement.
Babatunde Lea's project contains a real eclectic blend of Afro-Cuban-Caribbean rhythms, jazz, and meaning that will connect with jazz fans who enjoy good music that offers interesting surprises but remains accessible.
Track Listing: 1. Suite Unseen: Ancestral Stroll;
3. On the T.L.;
4. A Song For Ani;
5. The Bay Area's Afro-Latin Funky Love Shuffle;
8. Suite Unseen: The Unseen;
9. Fire and Rain;
10. Suite Unseen: Spirit of the 'Wood';
11. Chants from Home;
12. Suite Unseen: From Home;
13. Maeeah's Big Adventure;
14. Suite Unseen: Summoner of the Ghost.
Personnel: Babatunde Lea: (drums, percussion, vocals, bala fon); Steve Turré: (trombone, conch shells); Richard
Howell: (saxophones, vocals, kalimba); Glen Pearson: (piano); Geoff Brennan and Ron Belcher: (acoustic
bass); 'Bujo' Kevin Jones: (percussion).
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.