Eve is Beninese singer/songwriter Angélique Kidjo's first recording in nearly four years. Its title is inspired literally by her mother Yvonne's nickname, and metaphorically for the Judeo-Christian heritage's first woman. It is "dedicated to the women of Africa: to their resilience and their beauty." Produced by Patrick Dillett, the album was recorded in the U.S., France, Luxembourg, and Africa. The cast of musicians is stellar: Lionel Loueke and Dominic James on guitars, Steve Jordan on drums, Christian McBride on bass, and Jean Hébrail on programming and arrangements, plus a slew of percussionists and keyboardists and a horn section. Guests include Rostam Batmagli (Vampire Weekend), Dr. John, Bernie Worrell, Nigerian singer ASA, the Kronos Quartet, Steven Bernstein, Stuart Bogie, and, on the sweeping, nearly transcendent "Awalole," the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. This is no ordinary "world fusion" exercise. This is a modern pop record whose roots and rhythms are deep in African, Caribbean, and Latin traditions. After recording these tracks, Kidjo went to Africa with a six-track tape recorder and captured eight Beninese women's choirs in a variety of languages, Cotonou's fabulous Trio Teriba, and the Merti Samburu choir from Kenya, who are featured on "M'baamba (Kenyan Song)," a traditional song given a cooking, punchy modern arrangement full of whomping, entwined low-end basses, intricate guitar lines, and soaring organ. "Shango Wa" is boiling Afro-funk with swirling organ, hyperkinetic basslines, waves of rolling drums, nasty wah-wah guitar, and a women's choir soaring to meet Kidjo's propulsive vocal. The ballad "Blewu" is a stripped-down guitar-and-voice duet with countryman Loueke. "Bomba" -- one of two tracks featuring Batmagli on guitar -- is an ebullient call-and-response number where sky-scorching B-3, careening funky bass, and lyrical guitars surround the choir and Kidjo, who adds a soul tinge to her delivery, creating an irresistible contrast. "Kulumbu" is a folk song that jumps with Dr. John's pumping NOLA R&B piano. "Ebile," with Kronos, is one of the more unusual arrangements here, but because of its timbre, melody, vocal style, and raw polyrhythmic layers, feels nearly traditional. Another stunner is "Bana," where Kidjo sings with her mother and a choir as highlife, Beninese folk and pop, and Caribbean rhythms all come together infectiously. The driving Afro-Cuban funk in "Orisha," with its dirty keyboard bass and popping horns, is low-down and celebratory. Dillett's production is brilliant. He seamlessly weaves together the polished, pristine sounds of modern pop with organic sounds and textures, and captures the boundless energy of it all as if it were live. There are several milestones in Kidjo's nearly 30-year recording career; Eve is certainly one of them.
by Thom Jurek