Summit Records has captured two sessions recorded in Boston by a group of New England musicians led by trumpeter Greg Hopkins. Most of the music was composed by Hopkins and is designed to incorporate the events that influenced him during the last 25 years, running from his work in jazz and Motown in Detroit to playing in and writing for such big bands as Buddy Rich's. The title is somewhat misleading. The music is less African than European symphonic. This group of similar large contemporary bands that perform in concert like the Carla Bley Very Big Band, the Mingus Big Band, and the European-based George Gruntz Concert Band. It also follows in the tradition of the Duke Ellington Orchestra when that unit was in a concert mode. Like those organizations, the Hopkins unit features exciting arrangements, tight, dynamic ensemble work, and strong, straight-ahead blowing from top rate soloists. There are four two-part compositions on the album, allowing Hopkins' ideas to be fully realized by this very good band of musicians. "Steller-Prologue" and "Steller by Satellite" are journeys, relatively gentle rather than perilous, into the creative world of modern jazz, with jagged rhythms and dissonant give and take between instruments, such as between Hopkins' trumpet, Joe Hunt's drums with clashing cymbals, and Jeff Galindo's trombone. Hopkins, as expected, gets most of the solo work, although sax man Billy Pierce and guitarist Mick Goodrick get chunks as well. Pierce has spacious solo room on Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes" with Mick Goodrick's guitar working underneath. This is one of the prime tracks on the album. Okavongo is prime, progressive big band music with symphonic jazz overtones at its most exciting and imaginative. Recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan