DJ, producer, leader and compiler Nicola Conte has devoted a good deal of time to perfecting his craft as a musician, composer and arranger in recent years and this latest offering is testimony to his increasing interest in fusing African rhythms with jazz. In fact, the motivation for the project is rooted in some of the original MPS recordings when the, ‘Jazz meets the world on MPS’ series, resulted in some wonderful fusion albums of flamenco, Brazilian and South Asian music, to name but three external influences. On this new recording with a live band, the extended ensemble comprises South African, American, Italian and Scandinavian musicians, while the numerous guests include Zara McFarlane on vocals, and promising trombone player Gianluca Petrella who has been the recipient of a Down Beat ’emerging artist’ award. Trumpeter Theo Croker, UK Vibe favourite, Nduduzo Makhathini, and saxophonist Logan Richardson feature throughout.
Among the regular band members, multi-reedist Magnus Lindgren plays a key role, and he performs on flute on the excellent ‘Cosmic Peace’, which has a strong Strata East influence, with layered keyboards and percussion recalling Lonnie Liston Smith. Female vocals are provided by Bridgette Amofah. The influence of John Coltrane permeates the entire album, but is particularly discernible on ‘Tribes From the Unknown’, which features a saxophone riff taken from ‘A Love Supreme’. Sun Ra, in his interest in Egyptology and what has come to be termed Afro-futurism, combined an interest in both the past and future with a clear African theme and the spaced out opener, ‘Uhuru Na Umoja’, pays homage to that influence, with the use of electronics and voices.
An interest in both West African high life music and a subtle nod to Afrobeat are themes pursued by Nicola Conte on this album. The former is present on, ‘Mystic Revelation of the Gods’, with fine brass ensemble work, while on the latter, wah-wah guitar and percussion combine effectively on the piece, ‘Me Do Wo’, and this approach differs markedly from other less experienced musicians who elsewhere have attempted an impersonation of the Afrobeat sound. In a more traditional West African setting, ‘Ogun’ is a percussive number that gradually builds, while Afro-jazz predominates on the lovely, ‘Universal Rhythm’, with ensemble brass and flute operating in tandem. The reactivated MPS label is flourishing if this recording is anything to go by, but watch out for some key re-issues of the original label in this column during the summer months.