Widely known in jazz circles for his virtuosity on the bass, relatively little attention has been paid to Richard Bona's solo career. Pity, as his solo records are generally excellent. Bona's records have a style that can only be referred to as world music. Generally, that term is misused, but Bona truly takes his influences from all over the world. Sure, he's Cameroonian, and his heritage plays a large role. But one can also hear overt references to jazz, bluegrass, blues, European pop and much, much more in Bona's music. This adds a sense of unpredictability to his workit's impossible to know what to expect and so just about anything is possible.
Bona's The Ten Shades of Blues continues in the same vein. There are references to India, Africa, and good ol' down home Americana, all interpreted with Bona's natural flair and effervescent smile. As on most of his other solo work, the multitalented Bona is everywhere and plays almost everything. The album opens with "Take One," a choral masterpieceexcept all of the voices are Bona's. "Shiva Mantra" follows, and here Bona is credited with lead and background vocals, bass, keyboards, guitars and percussion. Somehow, on this track, Bona manages to be at the forefront of the background, keeping the music grounded in jazz and African traditions while being overtly Indian. It's Indian religious musicwith a kickin' bass line.
The special guests on the album also leave their imprint. "Shiva Mantra" works due to the powerful vocals of Shankar Mahadevan (John McLaughlin's Remember Shakti) and Nandini Srikar, as well as Niladiri Kumar's tasteful sitar. "Good Times" is a showcase for R&B vocalist Frank McComb and harmonica master Gregoire Maret. Ryan Cavanaugh, Bona's compatriot in Bill Evans' Soulgrass ensemble, joins in on banjo along with fiddler Christian Howes on "African Cowboy," a rootsy bluesgrass mélange.
"M'Bemba Mama" is a highlight. A simple ballad, Bona's light yet powerful voice fits perfectly, with Jean-Michel Pilc's piano and Sylvain Luc's guitars providing beautiful counterpoint. While lighthearted, "M'Bemba Mama" is bubbling with emotion. Bona's vocal incorporates just the slightest bit of longing while managing to stay positive.
Bona is certainly a talent deserving wider recognition. His considerable musicianship speaks for itself, and his passion for music is evident in all of his work, whether as a sideman or a leader. The Ten Shades of Blues continues his excellent solo work, joining the likes of Scenes from My Life and Tiki as essential.
Take One; Shiva Mantra; Good Times; M'Bemba Mama; Kurumalete; Souleymane; African Cowboy; Esukudu; Yara's Blues; Sona Moyo; Camer Secrets
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