This recording documents a 2007 concert by Cameroonian singer-songwriter-bassist Richard Bona, one of more than 150 that he performed that year with his road-tested working band — a drummer (Ernesto Simpson) from Cuba, a percussionist (Samuel Torres) from Colombia, a keyboard player (Etienne Stadwijk) from Surinam, and a guitarist (John Caban) and trumpeter (Taylor Haskins) from Brooklyn. The program spans several musical tributaries of the African diaspora, reflecting Bona’s own experience during the ’90s — before bandleading became his full-time job — with such one-world-oriented artists as Harry Belafonte and Joe Zawinul, not to mention the more under-the-radar French-Vietnamese guitarist Nguyen Lê. To be specific, Bona drives his songs with rhythms and melodies drawn from West African pop (“Kalabancoro” “Sem, Sem, Sem,” “Te Dikalo”) and traditional music (“Samaouma”), from Afro-Caribbean rhumba and salsa (“Kivu,” “Suninga”), and from American soul and rhythm-and-blues (the medleys “Indiscretions/Please Don’t Stop” and “Djombwe/I Wish/Trains”). He’s a superb singer, elaborating his stories with an enviable range of voices and attacks, transitioning fluidly from a resonant tenor to a keening, onomatopoeic falsetto that can evoke a wood flute at one moment and then, at the next, transition to the microtonally tuned, percussive thwacks of a talking drum. Bona presented similar repertoire on his four previous albums, all nuanced, meticulously produced studio affairs on which he recruited such stars as Michael Brecker, Kenny Garrett, Salif Keita, and John Legend to augment and detail the proceedings. Here, without benefit of the layering techniques and do-over options that exist in the studio, he projects the charisma, energy, and craft to which his in-person audiences so palpably respond.
About the Author
Ted Panken writes extensively about jazz for various publications, including DownBeat and Jazziz, as well as the website www.jazz.com. He's presented it on WKCR-FM in New York City since 1985. He won the 2007 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for his article "Smalls Universe," published by DownBeat.