Spring has sprung and so have some terrific new releases of the season. We hear first from Cuba’s Orquesta Akokán, a group of seriously crack Cuban musicians, with an album recorded in the legendary Areito Studio in Havana, which still records in analog with reel-to-reel Studer tape decks. Akokán is a Yoruba word with Nigerian origins that means “from the heart” or “soul.” The 16-piece band is the brainchild of Cuban singer José “Pepito” Gómez, producer Jacob Plasse, and arranger Mike Eckroth. Traveling to Cuba, they had no idea whether the project would come off, with power outages, no-shows, and other potential issues. Thankfully it succeeded without a hitch, and we can now enjoy this celebration of mambo classics, all recorded in the Cuban studio that once hosted Arsenio Rodriguez, Abelardo Barroso, Celia Cruz, and other giants. The Cuban musical pros were knocked out by Eckroth’s arrangements, wondering where this new American guy came from. This is the first record of Afro-Cuban music to come from the Brooklyn-based Daptone Records label, founded by the late Sharon Jones. Talk about an A+ freshman effort.
Vocalist Lauren Henderson celebrates her Afro-Caribbean heritage in a new album called Ármame (as in “Arm Your Heart against Heartbreak”). We hear her sing a Héctor Lavoe song called “Todo Tiene Su Final” (Everything Has its End). She also covers Shirley Horn’s “The Great City” in a bilingual version, as well as songs by Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, and Blossom Dearie on this new record.
French trumpet player Fabien Mary broke his right-hand collar bone in an accident in New York, hence the title of his new album, Left Arm Blues. I like the sound of an octet, with the various shades and colors of the brass. The arrangements and solos are superb, sometimes evoking the sound of Gil Evans—always a plus for me.
We follow with a live album from another trumpet player, Jeremy Pelt, recorded in the small first-arrondissement Sunside/Sunset jazz club in Paris in front of an appreciative audience. His song “Re-Invention” echoes the sound of Miles Davis’s quintet from the 1960’s.
We follow with yet another trumpet player, Norwegian musician Mathias Eick and his new ECM CD Ravensburg. Typical of ECM productions, the record is more of an extended tone poem than a jazz album, with beautiful sonic colors and textures that always make ECM albums an interesting listen.
Femi Kuti, son of the legendary afrobeat firebrand Fela Anikulapo Kuti, is back with a new album called One People One World. It features a large band and a big sound, and the songs are filled with optimism about the future of a very troubled continent. I don’t think he was referencing the current U.S. regime on the cut “Africa Will be Great Again.”
Moira Smiley’s song “Refugee” immediately caught my ear with its timely message and the urgency of her singing. There are many styles and themes on her mosaic of an album, Unzip the Horizon.
I recently bought an album that kind of slipped by me and a lot of others, too: Peter Gabriel’s 2008 CD Big Blue Ball, recorded at Gabriel’s Real World studios near Bath, England, between 1992 and 1995. It is a wonderful compilation featuring musicians from the Real World stable such as Cameroon’s Francis Bebey, Congolese superstar Papa Wemba, Jah Wobble, and others. We hear two tracks from it, featuring Moroccan-Belgian chanteuses Natacha Atlas and Hungarian vocalist Marta Sebestyan.
Check out the great sound of Orquesta Akokán:
Rhythm Planet Playlist for 3/30/18
- Orquesta Akokán / “Mambo Rapidito” /Orquestra Akokán / Daptone Records
- Lauren Henderson / “Todo Tiene Su Final” / Ármame / Brontosaurus Records
- Fabien Mary Octet / “Song For Millie” / Left Arm Blues / Jazz & People
- Jeremy Pelt / “Re-Invention” / Noir en rouge (Live in Paris) / HighNote Records
- Mathias Eick / “Family” / Ravensburg / ECM
- Femi Kuti / “Africa Will Be Great Again” / One People One World / Knitting Factory
- Moira Smiley / “Refugee” / Unzip The Horizon / Moira Smiley Music
- Natacha Atlas, Hossam Ramzy, Neil Sparkes / “Habibe” / Big Blue Ball / Real World
- Marta Sebestyen, Vernon Reid, Karl Wallinger / “Rivers” / Big Blue Ball / Real World
- Maeve Gilchrist & Viktor Krauss / “Farika” / Vignette / Adventure Music
(Femi Kuti carousel photo c/o: Carlos Fernández San Millán)