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The summoner of the ghost goes on an African-inspired journey in jazz on Suite Unseen. That certainly says something for the music, and if that tag is the bait, then band of musicians that Babatunde Lea has gathered for the adventure is the lure. And there is no disappointment on this exciting journey with the call and the ambit being jazz in the mainstream. The addition of other elements serves to perk the path.
Lea dispenses with the continuous structure of a suite, breaking it up into five and interspersing the segments with music that fits in very nicely indeed. And as he begins, Lea takes an "Ancestral Stroll," which is bristling and fiery, made all the more palpable by Steve Turre on the trombone and some imaginative rhythm from Lea on the drums and "Bujo" Kevin Jones on percussion. Richard Howell etches a deeper vein on the saxophone in a wiry, intense outing. The percussive beat of the third part, "Spirit of the Wood," is irresistible with the balafon and the kalimba and the chants, a spell that completes its circle when the conch shells whoop in.
More often than not, pop tunes given a jazz invocation turn out to be little more than codswallop. Not so with "Fire and Rain," a James Taylor classic transformed most beautifully by Howell. He never goes past the emotion of the song, nor does he try to inject more than is necessary to make it an experience worth latching onto. And when he has made his statement, Glen Pearson extends the impact with a harmonically rich turn on the piano. Of the other material, "The Bay Area's Afro-Latin Funky Love Shuffle is all what it says, the sinews of the melody wrapped by the trombone. From then on it goes into funk and Latin and some dense harmonies, all making for a joyous ode. Lea sure does summon up some good times.
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; Ron Belcher: double bass; Geoff Brennan: bass; Richard Howell:
saxophones; Bujo Kevin Jones: percussion; Glen Pearson: piano; Steve Turre: trombone;
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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