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: Suite Unseen: Ancestral Stroll; Motivation; On the T.L.; A Song for Ani; The Bay Area
Personnel: Babatunde Lea--drums, percussion, vocals, bala fon; Steve Turre--trombone, conch shells; Richard Howell--saxophones, vocals, kalimba; Glen Pearson--piano; Geoff Brennan--acoustic bass; Ron Belcher--acoustic bass;
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.