Thursday, October 20, 2011

BYOV - Meeting #5

October 16th presented us with another lovely fall day in Brooklyn. For my part, I enjoyed the great outdoors by lugging my trusty turntable and quasi-reliable computer to Barbès for the 5th installment of Bring Your Own Vinyl.

I should really consider renaming it Bring Your Own Digital Music Format, as I was the only vinyl presenter. But no… I will persevere.

How we get down.

We had an interesting slew of themes for this meeting. A couple that provided some real verbal jabs and parries.

Here were our themes:

a) All by myself… Memorable solo performance. One person and his/her art.

b) Getting’ modern. Musical masterpieces from the 1990s and/or 2000s.

c) What’s so special about that? Play and discuss a time-honored favorite you feel is overrated.

Of course, as anyone might imagine, both the modern masterpieces and overrated themes could prove to be contentious. “Modern masterpieces and overrated pieces could be the same category,” quipped Mr. Panken.

1. John Escreet – “Wayne’s World” from Consequences (Posi-Tone 8042, 2009)
Presented by Zak Shelby-Szyszko – Theme: B – MP3

Zak was reluctant to call any recent recording a masterpiece but was happy to bring in a recent recording that he was extremely impressed by.

We heard an angular, very modern piano trio. The pianist’s movement seemed to emerge from a post Andrew Hill sentiment. Good writing and improvising.

Pianist was the leader? Yep.

Matt Shipp? Nope. Craig Taborn? Nuh-uh. Marilyn Crispell? No.

Jason Moran? Nope.

Then came the horns. Hmm…

When did the record come out? About two years ago.

“Is it going to be a headslapper?” I asked. You know, the exasperated slap to the head. Duh!

“Maybe not for the leader. For the rest of the band…”

Then came an alto solo. Ted Panken slapped his head first. “Binney.”

No one was able to guess the leader, so Zak spelled out the band. The pianist/composer was John Escreet, UK raised, NYC based upstart along with an excellent supporting cast: drummer Tyshawn Sorey, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and bassist Matt Brewer. Very nice stuff.

Zak explained that it might be a little presumptuous to call it a masterpiece but he had been very impressed with Escreet’s innate ability to incorporate the more outré musical concepts of the avant-garde without leaving melody behind. Escreet’s balance of out and in really has set the bar high over the past couple years for both piano technicians and composers.

Most dug the composition and stated that they had intended to delve into his music earlier.

2. Randy Weston – “PCN” from Ancient Future (Mutable Music, 2001)
Presented by Eric Benson – Theme: A – MP3

Eric played us a nice piano solo. The pianist took his time, first focusing on the low end of the instrument. A very bluesy solo that definitely swung and highlighted some tinge of modality.

The first guess was Abdullah Ibrahim. “No. He wouldn’t have played those blues based things. It is Randy Weston,” posited Mr. Panken.


The recording came from a double CD from Mutable Music. The release contained two solo performances, one a new recording from June 2001 and the other a reissue of Blue (1750 Arch Records, 1983). This track was from the 2001 performance.

There was some discussion of where the earlier recording could have come from. François had thought it might have been a part of the Owl Records catalog. Owl had released a couple of Weston solo records in the 1980s.

3. Bill McHenry – “Art/Omi” from Graphic (Fresh Sound New Talent 056, 1998)
Presented by Simon Jermyn – Theme: B – MP3

This piece was prefaced by Simon: “Maybe not a masterpiece but a piece I like. Nothing flashy…”

The piece featured a quartet of tenor sax, guitar, bass and drums. The performers obviously had a strong rapport. Both sax and guitar were familiar to my ears.

McHenry and Monder. A very resonant pairing that has been successful for over a decade. The bass player had to be Reid Anderson, as he had played on most of Bill’s Quartet recordings. The drummer was the odd man out for me as I only have this group’s recordings with Paul Motian. This drummer definitely was not Motian.

Simon cleared the fog. The drummer was the esteemed Gerald Cleaver.

Futterman: “When has Cleaver ever played at this speed?”

I had mentioned Ben Monder’s immediately recognizable sound and Joel asked me what it was that I heard. Hard to describe Monder’s tone. There’s a very full bodied, warm and charged (more suitable word than electric) sound.

Ted mentioned that he enjoyed the “simple melodies” that McHenry presents. “It is refreshing.”

4. Jerry Gonzalez – “Jackie-ing” from Rumba Para Monk (Sunnyside 1036, 1989)
Presented by Ted Panken – Theme: B – CD

When we finally get the CD playing on the computer (Ted’s a PC man), the group heard a strong percussion segue into a written horn section. Everybody’s feet were moving.

Ted was surprised to have seen François at the meeting. He said that he would have brought something else if he had known. François knew this piece backwards and forwards, of course. My job depended on me knowing this one, so I stayed quiet.

No one else was guessing, though.

Francois to Steve: “You have it.”

“Do I?”

“C’mon! You don’t even have to pay!”

Francois was only too happy to blurt out the leader of the ensemble, Mr. Jerry Gonzalez.

Ted chose this recording because he felt that it was one of the best 10 CDs of the past 25 years. The record had also inspired two generations of Latin/Spanish American musicians as it drew the blueprint of a successful integration of jazz and folkloric music. The record had been name checked by many of today’s jazz/Latin music stars, including Dafnis Prieto, Miguel Zenon and Edward Simon.

“Ray Barretto said Rumba Para Monk is the top,” added Francois.

Steve wondered what Ted thought of Jerry’s trumpet playing. Ted said that while Jerry may not be virtuosic on trumpet, he definitely has great ideas that make his playing stand apart. He also credited Jerry’s global perspective, as he is equally proficient in jazz and Afro-Cuban genres, whether playing trumpet or congas.

Ted also made sure to mention brother/bassist Andy Gonzalez and drummer Steve Berrios whose contributions to the music couldn’t be ignored, especially as prominent members of the Fort Apache Ensemble.

The group also discussed the dialog between these New York raised musicians and Cuban musicians. François mentioned that while Jerry travelled to Cuba, he had been reticent to play with the Cubans, this was the holy land for him and he was paying his respects. Ted was surprised since many of the Cubans that had shown up in the States in the 1980s were so focused on the music of Michael Brecker and Chick Corea that they left most of the folkloric elements to the wayside in favor of musical pyrotechnics.

Ted: “If anyone thinks this is overrated, that’s okay. But I don’t.”

Some technical aspects were cleared up. Jerry did use some overdubbing as he performed both on congas and trumpet. Andy Gonzalez had mentioned to Ted that they had to change the songs to make the clavé work.

Definitely a classic recording in the sphere of Afro-Cuban jazz.

5. Paul Motian Trio – “It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago” from TrioIsm (JMT 51412, 1994)
Presented by Steve Futterman – Theme: B – MP3

Joel got Motian’s trio just as soon as Steve got the music playing. Besides the fact that Joel has been extremely familiar with Motian’s music, this group has had an instantly identifiable sound since its inception.

Steve called the Trio a game changer. A group with a musical concept that had never been done before.

But how was it different?

“Swing isn’t present. Their use of space. The non-virtuosic element… Almost like ‘Nefertiti’ (Miles Davis composition). It is all mood.”

Joel queried, “What about the Giuffre Trio from 1961? This idea wasn’t new.”

The famed Giuffre Trio was well known for abandoning the drums with the ensemble of woodwind player Giuffre, pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow approaching improvisation from a very introspective, chamber music like angle.

Here Motian had his drums and Bill Frisell’s electric guitar but for the most part this trio was taking off where Giuffre had landed.

Joel: “I pretty much agree with you… It’s fun to argue.”

The Trio was a departure for Motian. Ted pointed out that his earlier trio had been more pulse oriented when he had saxophonist Charles Brackeen and either Jean-François Jenny Clark or David Izenzon on bass.

Zak stated that with the focus on the use of space and mood, this recording sounded like a soundtrack to a film. But he missed the film. Steve made mention of guitarist Ry Cooder’s soundtrack work and how he may have influenced or been influenced by Frisell.

Some thought this music would only work for them when they were in the proper frame of mind or mood. “When the planets align, this music could be transcendental.”

Joel thought that these thoughts were dismissive. “This music doesn’t need anything.” I agreed wholeheartedly, this configuration being one of my favorites regardless of genre.

Joel also made it clear that Motian’s music has melodic purpose of a higher order. He expressed dismay at all these new musicians, especially in the rock and classical/new music canons, that use drones upon drones that have become unbearable to him. “They’ve forgotten what melody is. I blame Steve Reich. And Philip Glass”

6. Meredith d’Ambrosio – “By Myself” from By Myself (Sunnyside, 2012)
Presented by Francois Zalacain – Theme: A – MP3

The piece began with an austere solo piano intro then joined by a female vocalist. We heard some comments that François wasn’t going with the solo theme. He just leaned back and smiled. Obviously, we were listening to a double threat: pianist slash vocalist.

Steve was listening intently. “What is the tune…?” After a moment of brain wracking, Steve got the tune. An Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz penned ballad.

Joel commented on the beautiful piano playing. No clue who the performer was.

Was she American or European? “You know the accents better than I do,” replied the wily François.

“C’mon, Ted…”

“Performance anxiety…”

There were no guesses to the artist. François introduced the group to one of his favorite vocalists, Meredith d’Ambrosio, and an upcoming solo recording.

Francois told the story of how he had initially came across Meredith. During the early 1980s, François’s good friend Daniel Richard manned one of the best record stores in France, Le Mondes du Jazz. While visiting, Daniel played François a Japanese import of Meredith’s Lost in His Arms. Francois fell in love and tracked her down. He has released all of her recordings since.

7. Red Mitchell – “I’ll Be Seeing You” from Simple Isn’t Easy (Sunnyside 1016, 1984)
Presented by Francois Zalacain – Theme: A – MP3

The tune is in the first three minutes. The rest is an interview with Mitchell.

François kept the hits coming.

The music began with a trumpet solo over a 1950-ish jazz ensemble. A male vocalist accompanied what the trumpet was doing note by note with a rapid, inventive and mostly comic lyric. Pretty astounding as the syllables fell in with the quick pace of the trumpet.

There were again some complaints that this wasn’t a solo piece. The complaints died down after the vocal fireworks began.

Steve was able to guess that it was trumpeter Tony Fruscella’s trumpet solo on “I’ll Be Seeing You” with bassist Red Mitchell singing his own lyrics along with the solo.

Steve mentioned how much he enjoyed Fruscella’s work because he was a tremendous improviser and particularly this solo because he never touches the head (the song’s melody).

François told the story of where the idea to record this germinated. He had originally seen Red Mitchell perform at the Nice Jazz Festival. As an encore, Mitchell had come out on stage with a tape recorder and placed it near the microphone as he sang along with this recording. It blew everyone away. After moving to New York, François became familiar with Mitchell at Bradley’s and asked him to do a solo recording under the stipulation that he would do this piece. They placed it as a bonus track on the album Simple Isn’t Easy.

This recording also had a story that included my favorite movie director, Stanley Kubrick. Sometime after the release, François received a call from one of Kubrick’s assistants who mentioned that the director had heard this recording on the radio while driving in France. The assistant asked if François would send a copy over, he did. End of story. But hell, it was a personal favor to Stanley Kubrick.

Okay. Here was where the meeting got a little more interesting… A little more controversial.

FYI – None of the statements below are representative of the sentiments of the entire group. We were happy to let the criticism fly. Being that some of the individuals depend upon these musicians’ work for their livelihood, I’ve decided to keep the comments anonymous, unless otherwise noted. Some present decided not to comment on some of the following selections.

Guess you’ll have to come to a meeting to catch everything uncensored.

8. Keith Jarrett Standard Trio – “Four” from My Foolish Heart (ECM, 2007)
Presented by Joel Harrison – Theme: C – CD

“Just throw this one on. The first song. You’ll know it in 10 seconds,” prefaced Joel.

“DeJohnette is the culprit! He’s too busy and the time is poor,” remarked one of our critics. He also guessed the Jarrett Trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

Joel had decided to pick on Keith Jarrett on the first “overrated” selection.

“When was this? After his illness?”

A while after his illness.

Joel took issue on a number of points. The trio did not sound inspired, they played poorly and, to top it off, Jarrett wrote that this was the greatest achievement of the Trio in the liner notes (he has proclaimed the same in many liner notes before and since).

The fact that Jarrett hadn’t recorded any original compositions since the mid-1980s became a sore point with many former followers. This particular trio had been doing “the same old thing” for years. The lackluster performances don’t deserve the credit enthusiasts give, “or a private jet for that matter.” Some thought the lack of enthusiasm in performance might be due to the fact that the group was playing for a paycheck rather than creating an artistic statement.

Needless to say, there were a number of Jarrett fans present that defended the pianist to the end (namely Ted and François). Nonetheless, no member of the trio escaped unscathed. Here are some anonymous thoughts:

“Peacock is grossly overrated.”

“I know some bass jokes about him. Something to do about walking… I can’t remember them now.”

So why have these guys become icons? Obviously, the Trio’s past output (collectively and individually) has been deemed classic. Their past successes have kept them on their economically advantageous path.

“Like Sonny Rollins… Is he the greatest saxophonist living?”

“When he is on, he can play a lot of saxophone…”

“Okay… But is he really the best right now?”

“Maybe not. But I’ll continue to go to see him. Same with Jarrett.”

Here’s when I cut in with my selection. Totally off topic, naturally.

9. Lenny Pickett – “Solo for Saxophone and Tape” from Lenny Pickett with the Borneo Horns (Carthage Records, 1987)
Presented by Me – Theme: A – LP

I threw on the LP as everyone’s blood pressure was still high.

We heard what seemed to be a woodwind ensemble playing a rather dancing, pointillistic composition with a tenor saxophone feature. It was actually a tenor solo over prerecorded tapes that the player had made using various clarinets.

Joel: “This doesn’t count!”

Me: “Sure it does. Someone asked if the solo could have overdubs at the last meeting. I said sure.”

Joel: “So… If I made a MIDI orchestra with me on top, that would have been cool?”

Me: “Guess so…”

The guesses started adding up. Eddie Harris? Julius Hemphill? David Murray?

First hint: Originally from the West Coast.

Vinny Golia? Bennie Maupin? Arthur Blythe? Is this the Microscopic Septet guys?

Next hint: You can see him live every Saturday night. - Crickets.

Every Saturday night... Live… On television… – Nothing.

I let them off the hook. Lenny Pickett has been the musical director of the Saturday Night Live band since 1995. Prior to that, he had been a member of the legendary Tower of Power funk outfit out of the Bay area and had participated in many of the “downtown” scene’s projects of the 1980s. He had also arranged on recordings by artists as diverse as Elton John, the Talking Heads and Cyndi Lauper. Along with his work at SNL, he has been a part of the music department at NYU for a number of years.

“He sounds like Sanborn there.”

Me: “I thought you guys would get it when he plays his high register and bluesy R&B stuff.”

Joel: “This was barely, barely, before smooth jazz.”

Steve: “He was definitely influenced by the World Saxophone Quartet.”

Joel: “They’re also overrated.”

There the discourse went into saxophonist who might or might not be overrated.

“What about Joe Lovano?”

Ted’s eyes got really big.

François: “No. Lovano isn’t overrated. He might be overexposed.”

Too much of a good thing?

10. Ahmad Jamal – “It’s You or No One” from Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing, Vo. 2 (Argo PS-667, 1961)
Presented by Steve Futterman – Theme: C – MP3

Steve: “Here’s a guy close to Jarrett. I don’t get it. I think he’s boring.”

Then came a fluttery, tuneful piano trio recording.

“Ahmad Jamal isn’t overrated,” came the quick response from Ted. “This may not be his best performance. Put on "Poinciana." He plays a lot of piano on that. (…) He was Miles’ favorite pianist.”

Steve: “What did Miles hear? Space…? Who cares?”

“He heard them live”

Steve: “This is live… I always hear about his orchestral feel on the piano. What does that mean?”

“It is in the arrangement. His attempt to use the entire ensemble and the full piano to orchestrate all the parts that he hears in his head.”

At this point, the speed at which the conversation continued was kind of a blur. Forgive me for not catching it all. Here’s the gist.

“You can’t talk about Jamal without talking about the trio.”

“He’s not taking chances. What’s the twinkly stuff he’s doing?”

“He can play a ton of piano. Listen to the Blackhawk sessions. He plays a ton of piano there.”

Zak: “I think he’s the most distinctive pianist since Monk. He can play with this beauty and then surprise you with these bombs. Maybe not rhythmic bombs, but things that really surprise you. He really mixes it up.”

“His live shows are a circus now. He just plays on autopilot. He just throws random things in.”

“I’m not even listening to this stuff. It is music that I can ignore.”

“Well, why did eight famous pianists show up and sit in the front row at his last gig? Why?”

Steve: “I don’t know. I don’t get it.”

François described the French reception to Jamal. They weren’t very favorable at the outset.

Steve: “I don’t get Oscar Peterson, either.”

“What about Hank Jones?”


François: “I didn’t know you were French!”

I’ll have to bring a recorder for the next meeting.

11. Noah Preminger – “Where or When” from Before the Rain (Palmetto, 2011)
Presented by Zak Shelby-Szyszko – Theme: B – MP3

Before we adjourned, Zak played another piece by a “young guy that I’m impressed with.”

The piece was a tenor sax and piano duo ballad. The tenor had a well-worn sound that everyone enjoyed hearing.

I guessed that it was Noah along with Frank Kimbrough.

Zak was struck by the performer’s mature sound at such a young age. That’s a big compliment in the jazz world. Ted mentioned that there was a Lovano influence in Noah’s playing and that he also cited Dewey Redman as one of his musical heroes.

Many in the room thought that a player’s ability to play a ballad really was the litmus test to whether they could hang. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove was mentioned as a “youngster” that had the ability to really emote on a ballad.

Ted and François concurred. Roy had a distinct advantage of playing at the legendary Bradley’s in New York. The club was a famous hang for legendary musicians and aficionados. Hargrove would have to play in front of the leading jazz musicians of the day on any given night. This experience hasn’t been duplicated since Bradley’s closing. It had been a huge part of Roy’s development along with many other players of his generation.

Though this concluded the musical aspect of the afternoon, conversation kept up on the development of younger musicians, who of these younger musicians were overrated and why the “jazz police” had kept them in the spotlight.

12. Joe McPhee – “Cosmic Love” from Sound on Sound (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2011 (late 60s/early 70s)
Presented by Jeff Golick (in absentia) – Theme: A – MP3

Though he couldn’t make it due to familial obligations, Jeff told me that it would be remiss not to have a Joe McPhee solo track thrown in.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Records AMG Forgot - The Gambian/Norwegian Friendship Orchestra

The Gambian/Norwegian Friendship Orchestra – S/T – Odin Records – LP 06 – 1983

I love when fusions of jazz and world music work. There is a multitude of varied mash ups with varying effectiveness. The most successful seem to be those of cultures that rely heavily on improvisation and/or rhythmic devices, Indian and African music being the most prevalent. Personally, I find that I gravitate toward the music of the South African expats (most notably Abdullah Ibrahim, Chris McGregor, Johnny Dyani, and co.). The blend of kwela and jazz has a particularly celebratory and lively feel, which is easy to love.

That being said, I’m always open to other attempts to see if they are up to snuff. Seems that the Europeans have always been more willing to bridge the divide between cultures, especially Scandinavians. While in Norway last month, I came across this record at a cool record shop in Bergen called Samleren (wrote about it here). I’ll admit that I was a little hesitant as the early 80s were awkward years for jazz and world music. Overall, I think that this mixture of Gambian folk/drum music and European jazz works pretty well.


Norway has been a jazz loving nation ever since the music hit the European shores. Norwegian jazz musicians realized the importance of unity within their ranks early on, developing the Norsk Jazzforbund (Norwegian Jazz Foundation) in 1953 as a means to promote Norwegian jazz and creative music artists in Norway and beyond its borders. In 1980, the Jazzforbund began to receive national funding that allowed them to create a Norwegian Jazz Archive and Odin Records in 1981.

Odin was created to feature and publish the work of Norwegian jazz musicians. It was the first such label in Norway and released some great, eclectic recordings during its 13-year existence. Early releases included musicians that have since become well known through associations with creative music giant ECM, including Jon Balke, Nils Petter Molvaer and Arild Andersen. (Most of the releases can be found on CD or for digital download at

The Gambian/Norwegian Friendship Orchestra was created in 1982 under the guidance of Bergen based pianist/bandleader Knut Kristiansen and Gambian vocalist/percussionist Zahir Helge Linaae. Kristiansen had been deeply involved in the Bergen jazz scene for some time. He led a number of ensembles including the Bergen Big Band. In 1981, the Wollof Music Ensemble performed at the Voss Jazz Festival where Kristiansen met Linaae, a leading member of the ensemble.

A beardy Kristiansen on timbales and Linaae getting down in front

In 1982, Kristiansen and Linaae embarked on a study trip to Gambia. There, the two traveled the country and recorded music that would be transcribed for the ensemble. In addition, some music was transcribed from other sources, including recordings made by British ethnographers in the 1940s and 1950s of Ghanaian Ewe music. The resulting collaboration used elements of the Wolof (the largest ethnic group of Senegal) and Mandinka (the largest ethnic group in Western Africa) folkloric music.

The G/NFO was organized at the suggestion of the president of the Norsk Jazzforbund, Rolf Grundesen, who then scheduled the group to perform at the 1982 Bergen Jazz Festival. With the help of the Norwegian Cultural Council, The Fund for Performing Artists and the Association of Norwegian Song and Music Organizations, the G/NFO was able to meet at Bergen’s Grieghallen on October 2, 1982 on the 10th anniversary of the Bergen Jazz Forum (the city’s largest jazz club/presenter).

The group was built around a Gambian percussion/lute ensemble that featured Ebou Secka (voice, halam, tamma), Kabirr M’Bye (sabar), Zahir M’Bye (sabar), Segou Camara (djembi), Demba Jobarteh (kora, bass drum), Miki N’Doye (djembi, sabar, congas) and Linaae (calebass, djembi, sabar). Norwegians filled in the remainder of the rhythm section and wind section. The musicians were Erik Balke (soprano, alto sax, flute), Olav Dale (soprano, tenor sax, flute), Vidar Johansen (soprano, tenor, baritone sax), Stein Holdhus (trumpet), Per Jørgensen (trumpet, cornet), Harald Halvorsen (trombone), Ole Thomsen (guitar), Sveinung Hovensjø (electric bass) and Kristiansen (conductor, piano, Prophet 5 synth, timbales).

The music:

“Prayers (Songs of Daru Rilwan)” is based on Kristiansen’s account of and subsequent recording of a Muslim New Year celebration at a Mosque in Daru Rilwan, Gambia. The music echoes the chants and singing of the ceremony. There is a definite Middle Eastern feeling as the piece remains in a minor key and the ensemble remains staid and reverential throughout the theistic sounding piece. Soprano sax emulates the musette tone and the collective horns repeat a minor motif. The piece is mostly written with only a bit of improvised trombone near the end from Harald Halvorsen. The horns build toward a rhythm section climax.

Transcriptions of music from the Ghanaian Ewe tribe are the basis for “Adzida Dance.” The original recordings are from the British musicologist Arthur Morris Jones ‘s collection. The somber tenor sax of Olav Dale briefly states the theme before horns and percussion set a dancing pace. The horns play the melody in unison with exclamations similar to that of the “hot jazz” orchestras of the 20s and 30s. This is a tenor feature with some very expressive playing from Dale as the percussion ensemble exerts energy. There is a “jazzy” interlude as the percussionists shift into a more swing rhythm along with a more traditional harmony as Dale keeps veering more out. Then back into the thick of percussion. The tamma (talking drum) holds the focus as master percussionist Ebou Secka takes off over a percussion vamp. This is a varied yet impressive and energetic performance.

“Drum Ensemble” features only the percussion ensemble. The drum choir displays a mastery of multi-rhythmic interaction in two different African drum traditions, Wolof and Mandinka. Mandinka djembe (a midsized, wooden drum played by hand and made from the Lenge tree) drumming is featured first, performed by master drummer Segou Camara with accompaniment by Miki N’Doye, Linaae and Demba Jobarteh. This intensely driving section has a strong established pattern with the interwoven djembe interjections thrown in by Camara. The Wolof section seems a bit less structured, or more obliquely structured, as the drums seem to all play differing parts. This section also features twins Kabirr and Zahir M’Bye playing in tandem. Pretty amazing display by all.

Vocals are present in the danceable “Serre Takka Ma/Mambo Ibo.” The title is said to mean “darling, marry me” and the song has a very rustic quality. Ebou Secka’s halam (small, 5-string lute) and vocals are front and center. The percussion builds up intensity until horns and piano come in with a salsa flavor. The Wolof drumming lends itself well to the sounds of Afro-Cuban inspired jazz, the reason the band switches gears. Stein Holdhus takes a nice trumpet solo, which is followed by a piano solo by Kristiansen. This is a crowd pleaser for sure, but maybe not an authentic or successful blend between the two cultures.

“Haleli Etoile” is named after the Senegalese band Etoile de Dakar that was formed by Youssou N’Dour in 1979, and was extremely popular in the region, including Gambia. The group blends native percussion and performance practice with those of modern pop (no drum kit, only native percussion). The Etoile de Dakar’s popularity meant that Kristiansen heard the music frequently while in Gambia. He arranges this piece for the ensemble keeping the ostinato rhythm patterns, making the dance tune infectious. The melody is catchy like the best pop tunes. Per Jørgensen’s great, improvised cornet intro leads into the ensemble melody with Erik Balke’s alto acting as the lead vocalist with a choir of other horns. Balke sounds reminiscent of David Sanborn on this one. Not a bad thing. Vidar Johansen has the final solo on tenor. This is probably the strongest ensemble performance on the record.

Jali Demba Jobarteh’s kora is featured at the beginning of “Massani Sise,” a Mandinka folk song. The lovely lute playing is accompanied by the percussion ensemble, a very authentic performance of this piece. Demba’s vocals are resonant against the sparse accompaniment. The percussion starts to pick up as the guitar and bass come in. The horns begin a repeating motif that emulates the arpeggiated kora lines. There is a little of that slick 80s electric bass and guitar sound (I’m hearing the echoes of Sharrock’s Enemy Records stuff, dunno), though the solos aren’t bad at all. Vidar Johansen takes a soprano sax solo as the ensemble picks up intensity toward heroic climax.

The Wolof title of “Jelli Kai Nu Wagtan” expresses a sentiment that music no longer finds itself bound by isolation and tradition, instead it continues to mix with other traditions to make new music. This piece is in three parts and blends two separate musical traditions: the African and European. The introduction uses a medieval musical cadence, the Landini cadence (basically a Major 6th cadence used in medieval choir music). It is easy to hear. Seems as though lots of European musicians use these medieval musical devices (e.g. Surman, Garbarek, etc.). Soprano and tenor sax add a little color to a pretty tight harmonic sequence, which is pretty but not very inspired. Musical sign of the times? The second section is based on the Wolof music tradition and comes in immediately after the horns stop. The percussion and vocals are seemingly loose but become more and more focused. Much more enthusiastic. The drums then slow as the horns return for the concluding section, a playing of “Ormen Lange,” a Norwegian folk tune with close harmony and a catchy melody. Kind of a grab bag of ideas but not bad.


G/NFO played this and a number of other gigs in Norway, including a nationally televised broadcast. Odin Records released the self-titled recording in 1983, which even had limited distribution in the States (though I’ve never seen a copy here). I couldn’t find any evidence that the group lasted any longer than that year.

Kristiansen was awarded the Norsk Jazzforbund’s Buddy Award in 1983 for his efforts in jazz and world music. He has maintained a steady career in Norway, but by no means prolific. His few recordings have been mostly tributes to Thelonious Monk.

Percussionist Miki N’Doye released a record similar to that of the G/NFO called Joko (ACT, 2002). He has also been a part of pianist Jon Balke’s Batagraf ensemble that has used elements of Western African music and has a couple of records out on ECM.