Various Artists

Conjure: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed

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Essentially the brainchild of Kip Hanrahan, the loose-knit group known as Conjure brings to bear all the elements that he had fused so successfully in the various projects released under his own name: avant-garde jazz, Latin (especially Afro-Cuban) rhythms, and a deep, funky blues sensibility. Here, using texts from the contemporary author Ishmael Reed, he distributes the composing duties to everyone from Lester Bowie to Taj Mahal to Allen Toussaint, mixes a heady instrumental gumbo, and allows things to percolate to a fine boil. The cast of musicians is certainly of all-star quality, but special mention should be made of trumpeter Olu Dara for some heart-rendingly beautiful playing, Taj Mahal for his wonderful, raspy vocal delivery, and the entire cast of percussionists, astounding in their diversity of attacks. The pieces tend toward relaxed pop forms with vocals and approachable structures but always sporting a sharply honed edge, both in their musical form and in the pointed lyrical observations that are philosophical while retaining street-level grit. As on other Hanrahan productions, there are several pieces (like Bowie's "Fool-Ology") which might be popular hits in a more benevolent universe. Highly recommended for all listeners.

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