Quebec's Mehdi Nabti is an accomplished composer, alto saxophonist, flutist, bandleader, and author. Of Algerian descent, he was born and raised in Paris. He creates improvised polymodal and polyrhythmic music as part of what he calls the "Afro-Berber continuum" that crisscrosses jazz, North African folk and dance traditions, funk, fusion, and the avant-garde. Grooves à Mystères is his eighth album since 2012. While he's been mining this particular vein of exploration in a variety of bands from the beginning, his previous musical discoveries, re-combinations, strategies, and juxtapositions commingle here in a recording that aesthetically complements the explorations of players such as Yusef Lateef, Nicky Skopelitis, and more recently, Shabaka Hutchings and Sarathy Korwar. Nabti's band Prototype also includes electric bassist Nicolas Lafortune, drummer/percussionist Bertil Schulrabe, and electric guitarist Joy Anandasivam (who also leads the Carnatic Jazz Trio).
These nine tunes (sequenced in alphabetical order) exist in the slipstream between the aforementioned genres. Given that Nabti is a saxophonist, it's tempting to categorize them all under the umbrella of jazz, where tunes such as opener "Antee" exist. Here, Nabti's lyric, soul-jazz-inflected alto phrasing slips and sings above a laid-back but funky bassline and a sparse, syncopated rhythm from a goblet drum known as a darbouka or dumbek, punctuated by elegant chord voicings and a bluesy solo from Anandasivam. Immediately following, "Ayyur" develops along a complex rhythmic articulation in the drum kit, with Nabti's Berber melody and Anandasivam's angular comped vamps expanding the jam's harmonic reach as Lafortune delivers a tough central groove. Elsewhere, on "Mithra," an original composition employs an elegant, singsong lyricism worthy of Ornette Coleman. A polyrhythmic backdrop from hand drums, trap kit, and Anandasivam's Bern Nix-esque comping serve to complement a rumbling driving bassline. While "Promethee" is knotty and angular in its stuttering rhythmic cadences, Nabti's reedy tone illuminates a harmonic approach at once deeply blue and otherworldly in its juxtaposition of expressionistic modal post-bop and angular Arabic song. ''So Maki Sum Se Rodila'' is a medieval Macedonian folk song kinetically rearranged by Nabti. An electric bassline intros an almost funky, hypnpotic vamp, Nabti plays a freewheeeling modal alto first, then introduces the melody as drum kit an a snaky electric guitar lend support--the latter delivers a stark and meditative solo. Closer "Timgad" lays out a syncopated, yet deeply funky backbeat framed by a popping bassline in hypnotic repetition with spectral guitar lines and Nabti's flute venting the humid sound with an old-world airiness that recalls James Newton at his most lyrically experimental. The music on Grooves à Mystères is easily enjoyed by jazz audiences, particularly those fans of more globally integrated approaches. Each tune is unique, from each other as well as any other music out there; the album is inquisitively creative and musically provocative. Despite Nabti's love of history and tradition, his music bridges centuries and traditions, blurring their origins to frame them in a complex yet accessible musical dialogue that interrogates root sources and cultures in order to transcend their limits honorably in search of a boundary-less new music.