Oran Etkin – Kelenia – Motéma Music MTM 24, 52:22: *****:
(Oran Etkin – clarinet and bass clarinet, tenor sax; Balia Kouyate – balafon; Makane Kouyate – calabash and vocals; Joe Sanders – bass; with Lionel Loueke, John Benitez, and others)
African klezmer, that’s what we’ve got going on here. But as with the best of these jazz beat hybrids, the intermingling of radically different musical worlds produces not an ungainly admixture of two alien sensibilities, but a third thing, never before heard. What immediately comes to mind are such magical excursions as those of Egberto Gismonti, who blended the pre-samba folk forms northern Brazil with authentic jazz and classical elements to come up with a series of remarkable discs such as Sanfona and Dança Das Cabeças; Jan Garbarek’s fascinating catalog of various Norwegian (and other) folk musics mapped onto Coltrane-esque jazz; Jon Hassell’s mixing of jazz, ambient, drone, and folk on, especially, Fascinoma; and the reigning master of such moves, Omar Sosa.
What’s common to all these masters of world jazz is their deep understanding of and commitment to all the elements their music deploys. In other words, they’re not just jazz musicians blithely appropriating and exploiting world-folk forms for trendy coloration or to cash in on the world-beat phenomenon. Each has spent years learning how various ethnic musics work and how to make them equal partners in the wonderfully eclectic world of authentic jazz. Take Oran Etkin, for example. The music on this disc represents a decade’s worth of working and playing with African musicians in the U.S. and Mali, plus years of rehearsals and performances with the current band. And it certainly comes through. The group listens and responds as if they were of one mind musically. Moreover, the band becomes a vehicle for poignantly expressing the deepest themes, desires, and feelings of Malian music, albeit in a thoroughly transformed context that nonetheless seems perfectly natural. Two marginalized peoples—Jews and Malians—become brothers in sorrows, joys, and aspirations.
It’s all glorious, but the song that perhaps makes the deepest impression is the thoroughly reworked—so as to be almost unrecognizable—Duke Ellington classic, “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” highlighted by a remarkable balafon solo and some very tasty klezmerlike clarinet from the leader. Which is not surprising since the leader constantly listened to the music of Duke Ellington between the age of 9 to 14—as the very informative liner notes by 89-year-old pioneering world jazz musician Yusef Lateef tell us.
When world jazz works, as it does so marvelously on this magical disc, it can be some of the most memorable music on the planet. This recording is an absolute joy to listen to.
Not a Waltz
It Don’t Mean a Thing
– Jan P. Dennis