The staid album cover -- with a photo of a teabag featured on the CD booklet -- gives no indication of the unique African-laced, chill-flavored cosmopolitan music that lies within. Or the fascinating history of the project's two chief masterminds, guitarist Franck Balloffet (from France) and drummer/keyboardist Phil Bunch (southern California). The two first met as members of Los Angeles' premier African band, Bateke Beat, featuring multi-instrumentalist Fidel Bateke, formerly of Fela Kuti's ensemble from Nigeria. The group was the house band at the legendary L.A. club Flaming Colossus, as well as Malibu's Adobe. Balloffet previously had played jazz in France with the Guitar Big Band of Michel Perez. In the U.S., he studied with Scott Henderson (Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea) and Joe Diorio. Previously, Bunch had formed the Bros. with future Surf Punk Mark Miller as well as Secret Spot, an offshoot of the Surf Punks, and sustained several years playing a country & western repertoire with Jimmy Discount, where his bandmate was future country superstar Vince Gill. In the early '90s, the two left Bateke Beat to lead the soul/Afro-beat Orchestra Shegemo and Savwa, which included saxophonist Ravi Coltrane. They brought all of these influences into the intensely rhythmic flow of Voyages du Jour, which began with them tracking down unique vocalists of different languages to embellish their produced tracks and melodic rhythm beds -- a process they have compared to the United Nations headquarters building. Heard on Voyages du Jour are Congolese vocalist Steve Ngondo, Marcel Adjibi, Amadu Sabali from Senegal, and American multilingual vocalist Chana. Also on hand is Nigeria's Remi Kabaka, who was the guest percussionist on the Rolling Stones' winter 2002 West Coast tour, and previously the only African musician on Paul McCartney's Band on the Run album. Tunes range from the jungly, heavily African chant- and chill-flavored "Azan Nawa" to the more synthesized Euro-funk and grooves of "Adjegule" and "Heroes of the Sea," a hypnotic dance-chill track with a touch of rolling blues swirled with African guitars. The fascinating hybrid is seriously hard to resist, but Balloffet and Bunch also have a sense of humor -- though you have to read the credits to find it. This Tea album was mastered by none other than "Earle Grey."
Voyages du Jour Review
by Jonathan Widran