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Mabuta: Welcome To This World

Dan Bilawsky By

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If the eyes are the windows to the soul and a portal opening to reality and closing on dreams, then the eyelids can be seen as the gatekeepers to such worlds. Mabuta—a genre-merging band taking its name from the Japanese word for eyelid—has a keen understanding of that concept. Shane Cooper, the mastermind behind this group, lives and dreams in different musical realms, having carved out his place as one of the premier bassists on the South African jazz scene while also making a strong impression in the electronic realm under the name Card On Spokes. With Mabuta he's able to integrate both identities to a certain extent, creating a whole that's true to each of his musical passions.

Opening on drummer Marlon Witbooi's cadential groove and quickly moving into a trance state with an arpeggiated keyboard crosscurrent, Mabuta wastes no time in taking the music to an astral realm. But this isn't a sleepy drift through starry atmospheres. Witbooi and Cooper dig in under the surface, the horns crest the waves, and the overall impression is one of hypnotic splendor, not gentle woolgathering. The follow-up track—"Bamako Love Song," one of two numbers featuring breakout British saxophone star Shabaka Hutchings—starts off with a more grounded ideal, finding traction with Cooper's bass while looking toward Mali. But then it slyly changes its line of sight and gazes up at the cosmos, playing out as a vacillating vision embracing both heaven and earth. Hutchings then hangs around for "Fences," a potent suggestion with persistent electric bass and drums driving the rave-up, and the core band carries "Beneath The Waves," a piece that swims above and below the surface of the water before being pulled away by the ebbtide.

A dose of Afropop, à la Fela Kuti, opens the second half of the album, with guest tenor saxophonist Buddy Wells joining Mabuta for its trip to Nigerian soil. Then it's off to "As We Drift Away," a number showcasing Robin Fassie-Kock's trumpet while shifting character in its gentle-to-tense-to-peaceable lifespan; over to Ethiopia for "Tafattala," a lengthy piece moored by Cooper's bass ostinato, dealing in intrigue and suspense, and giving guest guitarist Reza Khota some space to trip before a detour emerges; and out with "The Tunnel," an electro-groover in seven that finds Cooper cutting loose.

While the identity of this band is primarily shaped by Cooper's divergent interests and musical bearing, driven by the marriage of his bass to Witbooi's backbone drumming, and molded into melodic realms by the horns, the contributions of not-so-secret weapon Bokani Dyer also prove essential. Whether sprinkling stardust, creating clouds, soloing with intelligent abandon or pointing the way with his firmer thoughts, his contributions prove vital in establishing Mabuta's sonic fingerprint. Welcome To This World testifies not only to Cooper's creative blurring of stylistic lines and identities, but also to the gifts that his friends, like Dyer, bring to his music.

Track Listing: Welcome To This World; Bamako Love Song; Fences; Beneath The Waves; Log Out Shut Down; As We Drift Away; Tafattala; The Tunnel

Personnel: Shane Cooper: electric bass, double bass, guitar, synthesizers, Rhodes; Bokani Dyer: piano, Rhodes, synthesizers; Marlon Witbooi: drums; Sisonke Xonti: tenor saxophone; Robin Fassie-Kock: trumpet; Reza Khota: guitar; Shabaka Hutchings: tenor saxophone; Buddy Wells: tenor saxophone; Chris Engel: alto saxophone; Janus van der Merwe: baritone saxophone; Tlale Makhene: percussion.

Title: Welcome To This World | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Afrosynth Records

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