Martin Fondse

Ere Ibeji

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The focus here is on African-infused melodies, all written by pianist Martin Fondse and performed by his Oktemble. There is a softly swinging quality to much of it, the lush ensemble parts well rehearsed and tight. There is little emphasis on the soloing, even though the band includes such well-known improvisers as trombonist Nils Wogram, clarinetist Michael Moore, and guest cellist Ernst Reijseger. Some of the best work comes from lesser-known trumpeter Eric Vloeimans, whose free-flowing, riveting blasts on "Kehinde" startle with their energy. Fondse's arrangements favor the reeds, with which he appears most comfortable, and the simplicity of the tunes is somewhat reminiscent of some of the work of Abdullah Ibrahim. Much of the album is surprisingly tame, considering the performers, but the quality of blowing is usually first-rate, if not always challenging. Like Ellington, Fondse uses the ensemble as an instrument, with closely written harmonies, lots of syncopation, and simplicity the key. Although his chords sometimes have a slightly dated feel, at times Fondse looks forward with short passages of collective improvisation. The vocals, sung in English by Louis Mhlanga, add little, although they are tasteful and fit the moods of the pieces. While not in any way essential listening, this light and detailed music contains moments of relaxing, restrained joy.

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