Mamadou Barry ‘Niyo’ CD (Marabi/World Village) 4/5

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.

Tim Stenhouse