This is the recording debut of French bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel‘s Paris-based World Jazz group Waraba (“The Lion” in the Bamana language). They perform traditional Manding tunes as well as their own compositions and re-compositions but approach them in a jazz way, with the focus on improvisation.
Avenel’s Malian and Gambian bandmates performed with Yakhouba Sissokho (kora), Lansiné Kouyaté (balafon, a marimba), Moriba Koita (ngoni, a lute), and Michel Edelin (flutes). The band has traditional music in their bones and an openness to experiments. French flutist Michel Edelin provides a second jazz voice on many tracks. Avenel’s beautiful bass sound and rhythmic vitality spur the band on, the overall vibe is sweet, intense, and joyful, and the delicious blend of timbres is perfectly caught by this Stereo and 5 Channel Surround Sound Pure DSD recording.
Avenel explained the group’s origins:
“My interest in African music, its rhythmic richness, its sonorities, developed with my study of the sanza [thumb piano] and then the kora (and its repertoire). The idea of blending the double bass with these instruments is an old dream which was sketched out on my solo record Eclaircie (1985). Meeting Yakhouba I owe to Phillipe Conrath, who invited us to perform at the Africolor Festival in 1997. This was a fruitful encounter, and we decided to continue. Yakhouba became my kora teacher, my friend and musical partner. Through him I met Moriba and Lansiné. The basic trio: Yakhouba, Lansiné and me. Sometimes Moriba replaces Lansiné; joined by Michel Edelin (2000).
“[This music] is a meeting of individuals, a sharing of knowledge and passions, a desire to open things up and a respect for tradition. (Structured) improvisation is our playing field. The essential thing in this music is play, where the pleasure of playing is collective. The music is created around themes (introduced by one or the other of us) and improvisations on the harmonic structures (very simple) and rhythmic structures. The different ways of playing (traditional or a more modern approach) are expressed in a collective exchange from which soloists emerge.”
Album highlights include the rhythmic excitement of Avenel’s solo composition “Pi-Pande” where he overdubs bass and kora, and then lightly adds in a second bass for color and harmony; the shifting interplay and lovely textures of n’gonis, flutes and bass on Koïta’s stately tune “Batou Kagni”; the Caribbean insouciance and subtle orchestration of “Jarabi”; the ensemble groove with its figure/ground interchange of solos and riffs in “Kaïra”; and the sophisticated syncopations and accents that balance the touching simplicity of the classic “Tubaka.”
Jean-Jacques Avenel – Double Bass & Kora
Yakhouba Sissokho – Kora
Lansiné Kouyaté – Balafon
Moriba Koïta – N’goni
Michel Edelin – Flute, Alto Flute, Bass Flute
TracklistPlease note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Total time: 01:01:47
|Original Recording Format|
La Muse en Circuit, Alfortville-Paris
|Release Date||September 26, 2023|
African fusions have been approached in any number of different ways, but this mix of jazz and traditional Manding music is definitely something different. French bassist Avenel has worked for years with kora players, but this time out seems to nail both the spirit of tradition and adventure. Listen, for example, to “Pi-Pande,” where overdubbed basses move the textures and melody, while the kora provides a beautiful high overlay. On the original “Batou Kagni” it’s flute, bass and n’goni that do the work, bouncing off each other in some excellent improvisations. And on “Jarabi” the music seems to travel, moving from West Africa across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. All in all it makes for a heady mix that works on all levels — intelligently, thoughtfully, and with a sense of passion about the music. The backgrounds of the musicians mean different approaches to the music, although those mesh very well — as a group the dynamics become ideal, as they show on the closer, “Tubaka.” It’ll be interesting to see where they take these ideas next time around; certainly on this outing they’re successful enough.
All About Jazz
When it comes to music, “old” can be a relative term. Jazz may be a revered and ancient language to its practitioners and fans, but it’s a mere infant compared to the music of the West African Manding Empire, which dates back to the 13th Century rule of Sunjata Keita, its founder and first king. Until recently, you had to be from one of a handful of select families to be qualified to play Manding music right. But times have changed, colonialism notwithstanding, and players like France’s Jean-Jacques Avenel have made Manding music their own.
Avenel, who’s self-taught on the bass, has been active on the European free music scene for three decades, most prominently working with Steve Lacy since 1981, when he replaced Kent Carter in the straight horn player’s quintet. That’s where jazz fans will recognize the name and the sound, but for the purposes of this recording it’s important to note that Avenel has immersed himself in the music of West Africa for some time now. He’s been playing the Kora, a harp/lute-like instrument, for over twenty years.
Waraba (which means “the lion” in the Bamana language) is the title of Avenel’s Paris-based Manding music project with Yakhouba Sissokho (Kora), Lansiné Kouyaté (Balafon, a marimba), Moriba Koita (Ngoni, a lute), and Michel Edelin (flutes). Avenel plays bass (and kora, on two tracks) on the record, which is evenly split between traditional pieces and originals by members of the group. Other than the acoustic bass and flutes, the instruments that appear here are old as West African music itself (and the liner notes provide some helpful background).
Waraba is mesmerizing, transfixing music where motion seems to blur as time progresses, though the actual notes are quite detailed and interlock in precise and constantly changing patterns. The traditional pieces and the originals are intermixed, but unless you’re a student of the music you wouldn’t necessarily know which ones are which. Avenel’s playing on the solo “Pi-Pande” (on two basses and a kora) is perhaps the most personally revealing about the ways he chooses to connect jazz and Manding forms, and it’s anything but predictable. The bass is not traditionally part of this kind of music, so everything he does on the instrument constitutes either an invention or an adaptation.
The group interacts avidly with a candid, open improvisational approach in the process of fleshing out these tunes. The combination of timbres remains organic and balanced, and the DSD recording faithfully reveals every subtle nuance and coloration. Given the overall sprightly dominance of the kora—and credit master kora player Yakhouba Sissokho for bringing the African contingent into this group—this can be viewed as a kora record, but only by listening to Avenel’s bass playing can you really appreciate its inherent balance.
Waraba is breathtaking, masterfully inventive, and unpretentious stuff. Mind-blowing, really, whatever your musical background.
Refinement sans exoticism. An album of great discernment.
Only logged in customers who have purchased this product may leave a review.