Nigerian-born, London-raised, and now Brooklyn-based saxophonist Zem Audu is quickly becoming one of the most talked about sax players in New York. Self-taught on piano and guitar, he settled on saxophone before heading to the prestigious Trinity College of Music in London.
Early work found him playing with ska bands, so popular in the Caribbean-influenced music of England for decades. There's more than a little reggae and afro-beat flavor on the title song of Audu's new album, Spirits, featured on this week's New Cool show. Much like the electronic rhythms that have found favor in the music of young modern jazz players, the bouncy rhythms provide a wonderful setting for Audu's compelling melodies and fanciful flights of improvisation.
A fun surprise on the new album is the work of fusion guitarist Mike Stern, a veteran of Miles Davis' bands in the early '80s. Stern provides a tasty solo on "Spirits", giving a little extra energy to an album that seems to be made for the dancefloor. The melting pot of New York City is the perfect spot for Zem Audu's blend of cutting edge modern jazz and British-filtered African beats, and a perfect fit for The New Cool.