Gyedu-Blay Ambolley

Afrikan Jaazz: A New Sound in Town

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Afrikan Jaazz: A New Sound in Town Review

by Dave Nathan

From the West African country of Ghana, this is multi-instrumentalist Blay Ambolley's 16th album. Cut in the Ghanian capital of Accra, the CD has a play list of African-derived songs, including jazz standards. Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" is given a solid hard bop rendering seasoned with a dollop of African rhythm as sticks click underneath the major musical line. For "All Blues," Ambolley replants this jazz classic in the musical soil where it was nurtured. The cool Davis-like trumpet of Steven Smith is played against African drums as Ambolley sings, mixing lyrics sung in native language with wordless vocalizing resulting in a different perspective of the Miles Davis classic. But it's the songs composed by Ambolley and Rex Lawson, with strong, pulsating African rhythms that make this album so attractive. For anyone who has been to Ghana and seen performances by drummers and dancers leave with no doubts about the genesis of jazz. Not just so called "Western" jazz, but Caribbean rhythms as well. Ambolley and his crew catch the exhilaration of highlife which celebrates the end of the workday in many West African countries. "Asante Kotoko" and "Love Adure-Instrumental," with their infectious drumming, are the backdrops for Ambolley as he vocally engages in one of jazz's basic elements, the call and response with his band members. The sounds of Africa, jungle, bush, and native village come together on "Mother Afrika," which captures the symbolism that term conveys to inhabitants of sub-Sahara Africa. A poorly recorded 1998 live performance of a Leon Thomas-like rendition of "'Round Midnight" seems out of place here. Ambolley and his friends have provided almost an hour of music which reminds us how and where it all started. Recommended.

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