Inspired by his trips to West Africa, specifically Dakar, Senegal, drummer Harris Eisenstadt has merged the disciplines of African band music with the creative improvised discipline to create a new hybrid that is, in essence, the best of both worlds. Using brass instruments and a baritone saxophone, the quintet he has assembled and arranged this music for rambles through village, ritual and dance styles with an edginess that spans continents and bridges cultures in a extraordinarily unique way. The music of the African groups is not so much assimilated, but expanded upon in imaginative ways that emphasize the percussive and harmonic aspects of tribal syncopations and colors. Eisenstadt has chosen an excellent horn section with Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, trumpeter Nate Wooley, Mark Taylor on French horn, and baritone saxophonist John Sinton. Together they create a wonderful wind turbine of power, layering many sounds and counterpoint lines to act as a full-blown orchestra, playing music that sports a 50/50 balance between written and spontaneous composition. The source material is very intriguing, as Eisenstadt adapts Orchestra Baobab's "Kaolak/N'Wolof" into chorale-like horn shouts, galloping rhythms, free jazz, tick-tock and reggae-ish beats, singing lines, and an actual solo from Wooley. While Star Number One's "Rice & Fish/Liiti Liiti" evokes images of a chase scene, it is also cartoonish and hilarious, then serious in the vein of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, dense, filled with sweet and sour sounds that are alternately Asian, African, Latin, light, R&B-like, and herky jerky. Humor is also the key to "Dayourabine/Thiolena," a piece that must be so much fun to play, copping Captain Kangaroo themes with inebriated New Orleans street strut. Abdou Guite Seck wrote "N'daga/Coonu Aduna," but Eisenstadt adapts it into a distended circus march with a frantic race to the finish line and plenty of interplay feeding off acute listening by the bandmembers as they explore a fully functioning dynamic range from reverent to outrageous. The somber and funereal "Barambiye/Djarama" turns celebratory, followed by multiple segments of near booglaoo groove, repeat minimalist lines, and dance oriented moves. While solos are kept to an absolute minimum (or perhaps, they are all soloing together?) the abject interplay of this ensemble is unrestrained and joyous, much more so than many similar groups that pride themselves on unabashed improvisation. Eisenstadt's vision for this music, the arrangements he has certainly painstaking produced, and how this incredible band executes them to the max, results in some fabulous, truly original music that deserves many repeat listenings. Guewel (the Wolof term for griot story tellers or hereditary musicians) is an essential modern recording that deserves all the accolades one can bestow, and is highly recommended to all progressive jazz and world music listeners without reservation.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos