Jaja Matsimela are a band from Philadelphia that fuses two important elements of American continental musics -- Latin and the blues. Directed by percussionist/composer Kwasi and woodwind player/music director Big Bill Williams, jazz with spice and blues in a simmering context identify the unique sound this large ensemble utilizes, with a separation of these elements at times. Big-band-type horns and hot rhythms are at their core, with various group vocal components both traditional and modern, including harmonica jams, piano montuno, R&B-based funk, some reggae, spoken word passages, instrumental versions of the songs with lyrics, and a high level of excitement. Williams is ever present on his saxophones, as is bassist and saxophonist Laurent Ib, driven by the beats of blues on the exuberant "Mojo Mona" or in fever pitch during "Songo Caliente" and "El Balador/The Dancer" in the best Afro-Cuban tradition. As a modern band leaning toward modalities, opening track "Moon Goddess" only gives you a hint of what is to come in a fusion of charanga with strings heated up by Kwasi and three other hand drummers. Special guests like pianist Edward Simon, vocalist Andre Williams, guitarist Mike Cummings, and their teacher and mentor Baba Ibi Crowder make cameo appearances. This is some of the hippest "fusion" music made in the early 21st century by a band that has unlimited potential, and deserves attention far beyond its home environs.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos