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Ornette Coleman / Bachir Attar / The Master Musicians of Jajouka: The Road to Jajouka

Chris May By

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Jazz has been mixing it up with traditional Moroccan music for almost fifty years. Pianist Randy Weston was a pioneer in the late 1960s, followed by saxophonist Ornette Coleman in the early 1970s. A modern successor to those early adventurers is Boston's Club d'Elf, which describes itself as a "Moroccan-dosed psychedelic dub and jazz collective." Club D'Elf's 2011 double set, Electric Moroccoland (Face Pelt), featuring keyboard player John Medeski and turntablist DJ Logic, convincingly channelled the intensity of Morrocan trance music.

Coleman, Medeski and Logic are among the contributors to The Road to Jajouka, which was produced by Medeski Martin & Wood drummer Billy Martin and is altogether closer to the Club D'Elf than the Randy Weston end of the cohabitation spectrum. The album is a benefit for The Jajouka Foundation, which aims to support one particular strand of Moroccan trance music, that made by Master Musicians of Jajouka, a village in the foothills of the Rif mountains in northern Morocco.

At the heart of The Road to Jajouka are existing or remixed recordings by the MMoJ led by ghaita player Bachir Attar, on which guest musicians have overdubbed contributions. Among the contributors, mostly heard on one track apiece, are alto saxophonists Coleman and John Zorn, guitarists Marc Ribot and Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo, bassists Chris Wood, Bill Laswell and Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.

The MM&W opener, "Hand of Fatima," which also features Marc Ribot on banjo and guitar, is a chugging, heavy on the back beat, curtain raiser, as is track two, "Baraka," featuring Mickey Hart and DJ Logic. The MMoJ's wild, at times positively scary music is more powerfully captured by John Zorn on "Djebala Hills," the second part of which provides the album's most intoxicating moments, Lee Ranaldo on "Boujeloudia Magick" and Marc Ribot on "Into the Rif." On "Juin," Ornette Coleman alternates between elemental abandon and noodling banality. The closer, "Al'Aita," which weaves the MMoJ into composer Howard Shore's score for the massed strings and brass of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, is unexpectedly striking.

The MMoJ first came to international attention via Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones' field recording Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka (Rolling Stones Records, 1971). A more successfully realised field recording was heard on Bill Laswell's 1992 album Apocalypse Across the Sky (Axiom). Worryingly, the survival of the Jajouka tradition—which has been handed down from father to son for at least 1,300 years—is in peril, as older musicians pass and younger ones make for the big cities in search of more secure livelihoods. The Road to Jajouka carries a brief liner note by the film director Jim Jarmusch, whose 2005 movie Broken Flowers did much to stimulate European and American interest in Ethiopian music. "This is a living music," concludes Jarmusch, "and whenever I listen to its hallucinogenic properties, (I believe) that if the Master Musicians of Jajouka were to ever stop the flow of their magic the earth might well stop rotating on its axis, might cease to revolve around the sun."

If that sounds like hyperbole, you have yet to be bitten by the music of Jajouka; once you have been, it may sound closer to the literal truth. The Road to Jajouka is a fine place to begin the acquaintance.

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