Ginger Johnson and his African Messengers ‘African Party’ (Freestyle) 4/5

ginger-johnsonNigerian musician, Ginger Johnson (real name George Folunsho Johnson) migrated to London in the 1950s and became a staple of the live jazz scene, recording with Edmundo Ros and Ronnie Scott among others, and most notably Johnson and rhythm section backed the Rolling Stones at their Hyde Park concert from 1969. This excellent and timely re-issue from the enterprising London label Freestyle dating from the 1970s, focuses on Johnson the percussive leader and has a heavy Afro-Latin feel with flute that recalls Herbie Mann and his own Afro-Latin period. The pace is set by the rapid opener, ‘I Jool Omo’, that has a strong Afro-Latin flavour and a veritable battle between percussionists and collective chanted vocals and is the pick of the bunch. The fast-paced ‘Jazz Morocco’ reveals bop inflections and quite possibly Kenny Dorham’s ‘Afro Cuban’ served as an inspiration for this recording originally. Manic percussion and free-flowing flute combine terrifically on ‘Adura’ while there is an all-out percussion discussion on ‘Ire’. Ginger Johnson was a mentor to a young Fela Kuti and that Afrobeat rhythm does occasionally surface, most particularly on ‘Talking Drum’, which features jazzy collective horns and a divine Afrobeat rhythm section. Latin Soul briefly makes an appearance on ‘Watusi’ which is notable for some catchy collective chanting. An informative and colourful inner sleeve booklet provides useful photos and deserves full marks for reproducing the original vinyl sleeve notes in a clearly legible manner. File this between Art Blakey’s take on ‘Cubano Chant’ and any 1970s album by Fela Ransome Kuti.

Tim Stenhouse