Nigerian-born singer Douye has integrated the essence of Western jazz with the polyrhythmic sounds of African percussion. In doing so, she has spun the incomparable musical and lyrical genius of The Great American Songbook off its axis. These precious standards have been rearranged and reimagined hundreds if not thousands of times over the years. Douye was focused on presenting them in a fresh and impressionable manner. The concept of adding the wealth of African percussion to the glorious sounds of big band and standards has come full circle in triumphant fashion on Douye's third jazz album, The Golden Sekere
The idea of incorporating the sekere (a gourd surrounded or netted in beads), the talking drum, and other percussive sounds into Western culture was the spark that lit the sound in her mind. She knew she had something, and excitedly shared the concept with three talented and well respected jazz artists. All threetrumpeter Sean Jones
, bassist Buster Williams
, and guitarist Lionel Loueke
(a fellow African from the neighboring country of Benin)were eager to be part of such a grand concept, and bring their high-end musical skills and unique visions to the project. In all, thirteen carefully selected classics now have an inspiring new luster.
It's clear that a lot of thought went into which songs to pull from the vault of excellence, and to the presentation of each. The Golden Sekere
begins with Ray Noble
's "Cherokee." This is a song perhaps known as much for instrumental versions, such as by saxophonist Charlie Barnet
. Here we are greeted and serenaded by the lyrical romantic calling reminiscent of Douye's most powerful influence, the Divine One, Miss Sarah Vaughan
. This lovely interpretation has a soft swing and the bliss of Douye's own signature nuances. The African percussion becomes more prominent on "Speak Low." However, as throughout the record, it's presented on an even keel with the traditional instrumentation. The intent of its presence is to add a mergence of depth and character, not to overwhelm the original beauty and foundation. Douye brings this all together with passion, conviction, and her own brand of sophistication.
One can't begin to predict how a song is going to affect another. Having said that, it's possible that "The Very Thought of You" might bring tears to your eyes. The further into the song she went the more Douye was welling up. It's a special gift to not only vocalize with such feeling and emotion, but to also convey and connect what's in your heart with the listener. Her impeccable inflections on "very" and on another verse, "thought" is a master course in phrasing. Wisely, they rolled this feel right into "My Funny Valentine." Sean Jones comes aboard and plays a solo that is remarkably musical, with crafty note selections. He yet stays in the calm and loving atmosphere that the tune exudes. His understated grace then rendezvous with Douye in an emotional chemistry.
It was time to swing and it is doubtful Cole Porter
ever imagined "I've Got You Under My Skin" leaped upon quite like this. Here we had the enormity of the big band powderkegged with full tilt African percussion. With African rhythms deeply under her skin, Douye effortlessly captures the swing and pushes her extraordinary phrasing skills to off the chart boundaries. This take is a vivid example of the fire that once burned only inside Douye's mind, body, and soul, now erupting in its full glory. Frank Sinatra
once took us on a rocket ship to the moon. Modern travel has opened up new ways to explore the universe. Douye took us through time and space in her own way. It was all about the journey, not the destination. Guitarist Loueke took us on a detour through the stars and constellations that left us blissfully hovering somewhere in space. A mesmerizing solo, unique as if from another galaxy itself. Douye projects remarkably well in any room, so no reason to be surprised that she was joyously in the moment engaged in this most "spacious" arena of all.
The fusing of Western music and African percussion "Don't Mean A Thing" if ain't got that swing. In truth, the variant song selections more or less put the concept to the test. As talked about, there is some serious heart and reflection on this record. Rest assured though they had some fun along the way. As in her past recordings, Douye is very tuned in to the instrumental aspect. This is a jazz record, and throughout there is plenty of space for the cats to cut loose. Every time she punctuated Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing" if it ain't got that swing, it was as if she was feeding a group of hungry lions...devouring every note.
Like "Cherokee," the classic "Green Dolphin Street" is often heard instrumentally. Miles Davis
among others bringing popularity to the tune. It was again refreshing to hear Douye take the memories out for a romantic stroll up the street. A familiar tune, heard here with subtle yet clever changes. Along the way a clandestine interlude with Loueke blossomed into a sumptuous co-arranged duet of "I'm ConfessinThat I Love You." Because they met with sincerity and an instinctive feel for each other, they exquisitely played as one.
With so many musicians adding key interpretations to the appealingly arranged "Key Largo," it was like a summer breeze lifting Douye into a comfort zone that led to everchanging and enchanting directions. Ellington is then revisited on what is one of the most striking efforts on The Golden Sekere
. It's as if "Azure" was written for Douye. This shading of "Azure" is gazed upon in an entirely different light. In a true piece of artistry, Douye soared on top of the piece while simultaneously drifting and dreaming. A hauntingly gorgeous and chilling performance.
After an excursion of such magnitude, it was time to loosen up again and have some fun. It was now bassist Williams's turn to duet with Douye. There was some light percussion in the background, but it still amounted to a duet. Williams approached "Devil May Care" with a generous mix of grit and fun. He basked in authoritative grooves along with note changes that ranged from playful to downright filthy. No one said you can't play some serious shit and have fun at the same time! This created a heavenly framework for Douye. Firing on all cylinders, she couldn't have cared less whether the "Devil May Care" or not. This was a sassy Douye telling us what's what and if you don't like it then too darn bad. One can only imagine how much fun the two of them had letting their hair down on this one.
From scintillating to sincere the pendulum keeps swinging and concludes with a completely different take on "I've Got You Under My Skin." Without the big band and high swinging tempo. A scaled down arrangement that provided a more personal and poignant reimagine. This was a sultry and sexy Douye. The first arrangement was a party that everyone was invited to. This was a table for two. Daddy Said So
(Groove Note Records, 2017) and Quatro Bossa Nova Deluxe
(Groove Note Records, 2019) preceded The Golden Sekere
in Douye's jazz discography. While those first two endeavors are both pristine and lovely jazz records, as they say the third time's the charm. This is worthy of end of the year consideration. It checks all the Grammy boxes. Sarah would be proud.
Cherokee; Speak Low; The Very Thought of You; My Funny Valentine; I’ve Got You Under My Skin; Fly Me to The Moon; Afro Blue; It Don’t Mean A Thing; Green Dolphin Street; I’m Confessing That I Love You; Key Largo; Azure; Devil May Care; I’ve Got You Under My Skin.
Buster Williams: bass; Itai Kris: Flute; Billy Edwards: bass; Fred Doumbe: bass; Dezron Douglas: bass; Edward Perez: bass; Sezin Ahmet Türkmenoğlu: bass, guitar; Manas Itiene: drums; Charles Goold: drums; Corey Rawls: drums; Tosin Aribisala: drums; Lionel Loueke: guitar; Adesoji Odukogbe: guitar; Dokun Oke: guitar; Miguel Valdes: percussion; Raul Ramirez: percussion; Benito Gonzalez: piano; Dapo Torimiro: piano; Elio Villafranco: piano; Victor Silva: piano; Walter John Bankovitch: piano; Rickey Woodard: sax; Ron Blake: sax; Zem Audu: sax; Zack Pitt Smith: sax; Roger Cox: sax; Marty Wehner: trombone; Nadav Nirenberg: trombone; Sean Jones: trumpet; Brian Switzer: trumpet; Greg Glassman: trumpet; Freddie Hendrix: trumpet, flugelhorn; Fola Abiala: African percussion; Najite Agindotan: African percussion; Fola Abiala: talking drum.