Quickies: Bujo Kevin Jones & Tenth World, Neil Young, Gilfema

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by Pico

We’re getting to the end of the year and it feels as though there’s still too many 2008 CD’s to sift through and evaluate. I’m not ready for 2009 yet! Before launching into the ol’ year-end “best of 2008” lists, let’s quickly run through a couple of fresh jazz records by some fresh faces, and a new release of an old recording by a rock icon:

Bujo Kevin Jones & Tenth World Live!
“Bujo” Kevin Jones is from Englewood, New Jersey, but his percussion playing hails from the Congo, Cuba, and other parts of the world. Mixed in with a heavy jazz sensibility, Bujo’s festive music calls to mind the pulsing, Latin grooves of Pancho Sanchez.

It’s the kind of music best appreciated live, and that’s just what Jones does for his second release with his Tenth World band, called…drum roll…Live! With a piano player (Kelvin Sholar), a sax (Brian Horton), trumpet (Kevin Louis), electric bass (Joshua David) and drummer (Jaimo Brown) added to his percussion, Jones has his ensemble sized just right for a full sound that’s still nimble.

The songs nicely walk the line between Afro-Cuban jazz and r&b without diluting either. “New Nation,” for instance, has a Grover Washington groove, only more organic. “Bodhisattva (Wonderful Sound)” is not the Steely Dan song, but rather, a funky modal jazz piece powered by Jones’ and Brown’s driving Africa rhythms. The Havana-derived “Tu Boca” contains some nifty improvising work by its composer Sholar. Horton’s “Beautyful” is a mellow, mid-tempo chillout tune that has Miles Davis quotes from “Jean Pierre” and “It’s About That Time” for those paying attention. The one cover thrown is saved for last, a rendition of “Afro Blue” that stays true to its Afro-Cuban roots.

You’ll hear some nice, individual soloing here and there, but the main draw is the ensemble playing. It’s a tight, kinetic band that does a great job melding the busy beats to the dynamic horns. That’s good enough reason to listen to Bujo Kevin Jones’ latest CD, courtesy of Motema Music, more than just a few times. Live! came out on November 11.

Neil Young Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968
This early live solo Neil Young recording is the third in a series of archived concert recordings that Young has started releasing from his massive vault a couple of years ago, but precedes the prior two in chronology. More than even Live At The Fillmore East (1970) or Live At Massey Hall 1971, Sugar Mountain reminds me of Stephen Stills’ Just Roll Tape sessions finally released last year. In both recordings, each had just put Buffalo Springfield in their rear view mirrors and were contemplating their next career move, moves that would make them both superstars. In the meantime, each stuck with arrangements stripped down to solo guitar trying out new songs. Some of these songs would become very well known later on.

Young’s long, lost 1968 recording was a little different in one important aspect, though: he played these songs in front of a live audience. Since his reputation at that time was entirely built upon his time in Springfield, several songs are drawn from those days: “Birds,” “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” “Mr. Soul,” “Expecting to Fly,” and “Broken Arrow.” There’s also a good many tunes that were to appear on his self-titled solo debut just a couple of months after this performance, like “I Could Have Her Tonight,” “The Last Trip To Tulsa,” and “The Loner.”

There’s two main things you’re likely to take away from this record. One is that it’s fascinating to listen to Young speak to the audience between songs…sometimes for several minutes…telling stories in a rather earthbound, small talk manner. It goes to reveal Young as a more personable, somewhat timid human person than his reputation allows. He already had some success with the band he just left, but didn’t seem sure yet that his solo career would take off.

Secondly, the songs themselves sound great even without the accompaniment of the studio versions and the perspective of fame that he was to enjoy a short time later. The one song previously released from this concert, “Sugar Mountain,” has always been played that way, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Now we know that the inner beauty of Neil Young’s other early songs shine through unadorned right from the beginning of his fabled solo career.

Gilfema Gilfema + 2
Gilfema is a world fusion trio that is truly international: guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke comes from Benin, in West Africa. The bass player Massimo Biolcati is Swedish-Italian. And Ferenc Nemeth hails from Hungary. All three have met in the late nineties while attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Loueke, you may have noticed, is the same guitarist we tipped our hat to in our review of Francisco Mela’s new CD just last week.

Loueke is certainly an up-and-comer guitarist with the awards to prove it, and one of the more unique sounding jazz guitarists I’ve come across in years. His playing is refreshingly light and economical, getting its message across with well-placed notes, chords and textures. Moreover, the spirit of West Africa is strong, but Loueke has the deep understanding of Western harmonic structures that has made him so in-demand by some of the biggest American names in jazz. For Gilfema, Loueke also lends his singing skills, which is somewhat innovative not so much for vocal quality, but how he blends in his native Beninese lyrics with either his guitar or the two horns.

Ah, yes, that reminds me, for this record, the trio is supplemented by a couple of horn players. The coolest thing about this i
s that Gilfema didn’t spring for the traditional sax/trumpet lineup, but instead employed a clarinet/bass clarinet duo of Anat Cohen and the ubiquitous John Ellis. The deeper, richer sounds of these horns provide an excellent counterpoint to Loueke’s angular style.

The ten songs are originals with the writing chores split nearly evenly among the three. These songs all represent a seamless mixture of West African music, modern jazz and fusion, and the two Europeans are as every bit as attuned to the African melodies and rhythms as their African colleague. It makes for music that’s sounds fresh and tight, despite it being rooted in music that’s traditional.

Gilfema + 2 has been out since October 28, on world fusion-inclined ObliqSound Records.

“Quickies” are mini-record reviews of new or upcoming releases, or “new to me.” Some albums are just that much more fun to listen to than to write about.

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