Enterprising French label out of Angouleme, Marabi records have made a reputation in recent years of signing up African artists from the classic 70s period and succeeding in getting them to go back into the studios to record. Mamadou Barry is one of the most respected sax players in West Africa and the multi-reedist was a founder member and leader in 1960 of Kaloum Star of Conakry. This band rates among the top five all-time bands of modern Guinean music and when one considers that the competition included the likes of Bembeya Jazz National (also recently reformed on the Marabi label), Keletigui Et Ses Tambourinis (recently re-issued on Sterns) and Balla and his Balladins, this is some pretty esteemed company. Now sixty-two years old and having been music director and arranger of the group Amazones de Guinee and in addition doing sideman duties for Bembaya Jazz National and Keletegui, Barry is a consummate professional with a wide number of experiences to draw upon. The album is a winner from start to finish and highlights diverse modern African styles. One of the most melodic tracks is ‘Barry Swing’, a meditative piece that features Barry on flute and could be Yusef Lateef transposed to an African setting. Barry impresses once again on flute with rhythm guitar accompaniment on ‘Sedy’. In contrast ‘Niyo’ is an uptempo Afrobeat influenced number with Barry on tenor while on another song there is a tribute to former Bembeya Jazz national lead singer Demba Camara with vocals provided by Missia Saran. Jazz grooves abound on this album and ‘Africa Five’ is a West African take on Dave Brubeck’s classic ‘Take Five’ with nice use of rhythm guitar and percussion. Another vocalist, Sia Toino from Sierra Leone, impresses on the laid back ‘Sumbouya’, while in a more traditional vein ‘Tala’ features Barry on tenor and soprano saxes. A terrific release from Barry, then, who confirms his status as one of Africa’s greatest instrumentalists and an album that will appeal to world roots fans and jazzistas who are looking for something just a little different.
Vocalist Gwyneth Herbert has enjoyed a varied career on a variety of labels including the prestigious Blue Note, but for her latest project is on the cutting edge Naim Edge label. This seems to reflect a crossroads in her musical trajectory and judging by the results there are numerous influences going through her mind, some of which do not necessarily ideally best suit her style. Strictly speaking this is not a jazz album and clearly Herbert does not want to be pigeon-holed into this category. The first single ‘Annie’s yellow bag’ has an indie folk feel with double bass featured. Singer-songwriter territory is in focus on ‘Nataliya’ with minimalist bass and string-plucking accompaniment while ‘Lorelei’ is an acoustic alternative country number. Perhaps most intruiging of all is ‘My mini and me’ where Herbert makes a pretty good stab at US country folk, though the annoying whip-like sound in the background could be dispensed with. Cassandra Wilson carved out a niche for herself in the mid-1990s with a series of albums that avoided placing her into the jazz diva category by combining folk-blues, jazz and world roots influences into a cohesive whole that entirely suited her vocal prowess. Herbert is a gifted singer and may wish to reflect upon the choices Wilson made. Indeed Gwyneth Herbert may be best served in finding her own distinctive sound by ditching some of the indie-rock and pop influences on this album and instead focusing on the folk and jazz side. There is more than enough territory within these two genres alone for Gwyneth Herbert to find her own individualistic terrain. It will be interesting to hear how this album concept pans out in a live connext. Gwyneth Herbert will be touring throughout the UK betwen July and October inclusive.