Fra Fra Sound

Third Life Stream

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The liner notes for Third Life Stream -- presumably written by leader/founder Vincent Henar -- state, "If you want to label this music, call it Afro-Caribbean jazz." That's certainly a valid description; this instrumental jazz CD has been greatly influenced by African and Caribbean music, and even though Fra Fra has Latin influences as well, Third Life Stream isn't Latin jazz (meaning Afro-Cuban jazz) in the way that Poncho Sanchez and Cal Tjader are Latin jazz. However you describe this 1990 release -- world jazz, Afro-Caribbean jazz, post-bop, fusion, or all of the above -- Fra Fra's lack of dogma is quite refreshing. Sadly, there are many people in the jazz world who think in very dogmatic terms; the Stanley Crouch/Wynton Marsalis crowd, for example, has an extremely rigid idea of what jazz should and shouldn't be (much like a religious fundamentalist who is certain that his/her sect is the only hope for salvation and that all other faiths are offering a one-way ticket to hell). But suffocating dogma isn't part of the equation for Fra Fra, whose Third Life Stream draws on everything from fusion, post-bop, and hard bop to calypso, Brazilian music, and modern African pop. Another influence is Surinamese music, which Fra Fra explored in a vocal-oriented fashion on its 1997 release, Kaseko Revisited: Kotabra. On Third Life Stream, however, Surinamese elements are only used for instrumental purposes by Fra Fra's 1990 lineup, which includes many musicians who have since left the band. Over the years, Fra Fra has had its share of personnel changes; regardless, the outfit has always maintained a recognizable identity under Henar's direction -- and Third Life Stream offers an appealing snapshot of where the group was at the dawn of the '90s.