Waaju ‘Grown’ LP/CD (Olindo) 4/5

Grown is the latest from London-based quintet, Waaju, and sees the group expanding on their West African influenced world jazz template established on their impressive self-titled debut from 2018. Led by drummer Ben Brown, the group features Sam Rapley on saxophone, guitarist Tal Janes, Joe Downard on bass guitar and percussionist Ernesto Marichales.

The first track, “Moleman” immediately locks into a West African groove until there’s a splash of guitar power chords. This is the cue for the percussion to go into overdrive bringing a hint of Latin rhythms and includes neat sax licks with Edge-like delayed guitar barbs. Guitar and cymbal introduce the sunny laid-back afro-beat of the first single and standout, “Listening Glasses”, which builds into a bustling urban funk, the backdrop for the exuberant sax solo. For “Rollando”, the trademark Waaju groove is slowed a little and passed through a dub filter with much reverberation and spacey effects.

“Time’s Got A Hold” crosses over into pop-soul territory featuring the precise but soulful voice of guest vocalist Will Heard. Another top tune, “Wassoulou” blandly triggers a reggae-ish groove but soon warms up into a gooey psychedelic dub with wah-wah guitar and breathy hypnotic sax. Congos and abstract sax lines bring form to the epic “Grown”. The strident driving energy of the title track has notes of hard rock even prog with distorted growls from guitar and the soaring sax while retaining the core African rhythm.

Not so much a group for individual pyrotechnics, Waaju is all about finding and working the groove. Their tracks here, whilst sometimes complex, still retain the exciting and instinctive feel of jam sessions. I still get the feeling that this project is a work in progress but I see this album as a big step forward for the band. Since their debut, they have incorporated more diverse styles and influences. However, this is not a compromise on the essence of their sound. In fact, there is now more focus and the album is more coherent as a body of work. The performance is tighter too! This is an enjoyable and promising release and I look forward to hearing more in the future.

Kevin Ward