Alto saxophonist Max Wild's Tamba, his ObliqSound debut, combines classic musical themes and devices from Zimbabwe and South Africa with illuminating arrangements and improvisations from contemporary jazz. "My connection to Zimbabwean music defines me. Once I stopped trying to sound like a 'jazz' musician and let my inspiration come out freely, I was able to let my diverse influences create something that was personal to me. My music," Wild once reflected. "It's up to the critics what they want to call it."
Wild does not often spotlight himself or his solo prowess; vocals and guitar from Sam Mtukudzi, Wild's primary co-composer (and son of Zimbabwean musical legend Oliver Mtukudzi), play just as important a role as Wild's alto in this sound. Wild relies instead on your "greater than its parts" communal experience of his entire ensemble, an essential attribute of much African music. That ensemble includes electric bassist Michael Olatuja, whose wife Alicia contributes vocals; so does South African vocal star Chiwoniso.
A most challenging excursion, Tamba's title track stands among Wild's favorites. The rhythm section smoothly shifts between at least three different contemporary jazz and rock grooves, and yet provides solid rhythmic foundation for the skyrocketing electric guitar and electric piano solos before Wild's final solo burns this tune to the ground. The contemporary Afro-jazz-pop fusion of the title track seems aligned with the sound of Johnny Clegg & Savuka, one of South Africa's pioneering integrated jazz-pop ensembles. From another perspective, "Ndakuvara" creeps open with a Motown bass line and straight-ahead drums, and sounds like a newly discovered Junior Walker & the All Stars tune where vocals sing the verses but Wild's alto torches the instrumental break.
"Rudo Rwako" begins with an African vocal chorus, reverential yet lively, that's almost gospel in sound and definitely gospel in spirit. Next comes "Kuvakidzana," a title which proves surprisingly easy to sing and Tamba's only tune to open in the delightful and thoughtful clatter of African percussion; Wild's alto sings so sweetly that it sounds more like Grover Washington Jr.'s soprano (more specifically, "Just the Two of Us"). The journey "In Your World" begins with Wild's multi-tracked recorders, the third consecutive tune to open with completely different instrumentation.
In Shona, the predominant language of Zimbabwe, where Wild grew up, "Tamba" means "dance," and much of Tamba dances. Though it has a happy title, and sounds quite joyous, for Wild it must also ache with bittersweet: Sam Mtukudzi was killed at age 21 in a car accident while this set was being assembled for production.
Kwatinobva; Tinomutenda; Tamba; Rudo Rwako; Kuvakidzana; In Your World; Odun De; Ndakuvara; Butterfly; Voice.
Max Wild: alto saxophone, recorders; Sam Mtukudzi: lead vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion; Chiwonisa: lead vocals, backing vocals; Alicia Olatuja: lead vocals, backing vocals, voices; Soren Moller: piano, keyboards; Jesse Lewis: lead guitar; Michael Olatuja: electric bass; Massimo Biolcati: acoustic bass; Obed Calvaire: drums, udu; Sam Felo: backing vocals, percussion; Chris Berry: mbira, congas.
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