When saxophonist Benjamin Boone took a sabbatical from his teaching position at California State University Fresno to travel to Ghana as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar, he envisioned a yearlong educational immersion in the music, arts and broader culture of the region. What he couldn't have imagined, which became reality, was connecting with a set of Accra-based musicians who would welcome him into the fold as a band mate. Eager to document this newfound partnership before he returned to America, Boone brought everybody together at the conclusion of his stay in mid-2018 to capture the chemistry—and joyfulness—on record.
Boone's colleagues—tenor saxophonist Bernard Ayisa, keyboardist Victor Dey Jr., bassist Bright Osei, drummer Frank Kissi and guest vocalist Sandra Huson—prove to be polyglot performers equally conversant in the languages of funk, post-bop, swing and, of course, African forms. Fusing all of it together, Boone and the Ghana Jazz Collective create an amalgam that draws from those various traditions and ideals but remains fastened to none of them. The morphing opener, "The Intricacies of Alice," makes that point better than any song on the album. Shifting gears with incredible precision while also keeping a fixed eye on melodic clarity, it gives pause to admire the handiwork of the well-oiled rhythm section. A soaring, punchy "Maiden Voyage" follows. Boone, sounding like a man possessed, brings the heat, and Ayisa and Dey, in smart contrast, play things on the somewhat sly side.
As Boone and his companions travel ever deeper into their collective consciousness, they open the door to different perspectives in their shared art. "Slam," with Huson's wordless incantations, seems to play to ancient rites and modern-day strife all at once; "Curtain of Light" brings Ethiopian expressionism into the band's orbit; "The 233 Jazz Bar," nodding to the venue where these musicians connected, plays to the region's funkier side; and the Gerry Niewood-penned title track, with Boone gleefully riding the currents, encapsulates the titular spirit.
The album's one true outlier—and perhaps, its one misstep—is "Without You." A ballad dealing in a pure strain of lights-are-low R&B, it's a song more likely to end up with an "adult contemporary" tag than a world-jazz designation. But labels are for those who sort and need to put things in boxes, not the creators. If Boone is being honest to his own art and experiences, which seems to be the case, this song is actually an indispensable part of the album. Joy comes in many forms, and that's a point worth remembering.