Benjamin Boone's set with this band born and grown in Ghana is a genuine cross-cultural jazz Joy.
The seeds of Joy were planted when composer-saxophonist Boone spent a year as a US Fulbright Scholar in Ghana in sabbatical from his professorship at California State University (Fresno), to study the country's music and musical traditions. The music Boone found made him feel at home: "These guys know American jazz inside and out—but with a definite Ghanaian twist," he explains.
The Ghana Jazz Collective boasts an amazingly dexterous and powerful rhythm machine: After studies at Berklee, pianist Victor Dey Jr. went on to perform with such stars as Stevie Wonder, Hugh Masekela and Courtney Pine, and received "Musician of the Year" at the 2014 Vodafone Ghana Music Awards. Drummer Frank Kissi won 2014 "Instrumentalist of the Year" at those same Awards. And listening to bassist Bright Osei is like trying to swallow the ocean one bucketful at a time: The bubbling and torrent of rhythmic and harmonic movement just won't stop pouring out of his fingertips into his instrument and Osei is simply magnificent throughout this set of Joy.
During his time in Ghana, Boone was invited to sit in with the band at the 233 Jazz Bar & Grill in Accra. "The 233 Jazz Bar" re-extends this invitation into technicolor big city club funk via Osei's room-shaking, finger-popping bass line. Electric keyboards float synthetic chords that tie the rhythm and melody together, and Boone sprints (not steps) into his solo like he's already three minutes late and must catch up!
"The Intricacies of Alice" presents a dynamic musical portrait of the leader's wife and one of the band's favorite originals. "Alice can be a number of things at once, wickedly sardonic and funny while at the same time full of empathy," Boone explains. "The band thinks this tune is a hoot, alternating between three different grooves and two meters, because they know her, and know it fits." It certainly sounds like the band plays this tangled steeplechase of saxophone and piano solos in several different ways from more than one direction.
"Curtain of Light" and "Maiden Voyage" (Herbie Hancock) also highlight this set's joyful marriage of African and American music. "Curtain of Light" builds upon an ancient Ethiopian musical mode (written by a jazz instructor at Addis Ababa University, where Boone served in residence) into a massive explosion of communal jazz expression, with pianist Dey playing the part of McCoy Tyner to complement Boone's yowling, John Coltrane-like soprano sax. Bassist Osei and drummer Kissi drive "Maiden Voyage" all the way from America to Africa to Brazil, with Sandra Huson's wordless vocals painting sound clouds that float about Dey's beautifully reflective solo spot.
"In Ghana, music is participatory, egoless, and woven into the very fabric of existence," Boone says. "People live with Joy and make music with Joy."