A strong set of all-original material that has its cake and eats it too. With unobtrusive electric guitar and bass blending in with more traditional instruments like flute and djembe, it's both more accessible to modern audiences than traditional African instrumentation, and not as pop- and dance-oriented as much contemporary African music. The focus remains on Sangare's gliding singing (thickened by a couple of female backup singers) and the music's looping (but not laid-back) grooves.
When it came time for this talented, eclectic tenor man -- a native of Guadeloupe whose parents, both award-winning authors, are a black Guadeloupean mother and a Holocaust-surviving French Jewish father -- to record his solo projects, he had a wide variety of stylistic directions to choose from. He's been in many bands with jazz superstar Roy Hargrove, including Crisol, and his extensive touring with neo-soul god D'Angelo led him to work with David Gilmore and Me'Shell NdegéOcello. But rather than draw on these professional influences, Jacques Schwarz-Bart digs straight to his roots, blending the traditional gwoka rhythms of Guadeloupe with the jazz, gospel, and soul he absorbed during a lifetime spent everywhere from the Caribbean to Western Europe and the U.S. His tenor playing is inventive and colorful, his improvisations stellar throughout, and he blends beautifully with the dense African percussion, rolling rhythms, and light female and huskier male native choirs. The musician's intention, however, is to tell a rhythmic and melodic story of the history of many styles, fusing into a contemporary narrative in a wide array of moods and modes. The result is an exhilarating, hard to classify Afro-jazz delight that defies all genre specifics but fits cozily into both jazz and world music bins. His story begins with the infectious clapping rhythms of "Papale," built on the insistent war rhythm known as mende, with Schwarz-Bart's sizzling sax played with an otherworldly wah-wah pedal. It's an odd but enticing beginning because it's like no other sax sound you've ever heard. On the title track, he plays brightly textured horn lines over more clapping, subtle tribal vocals, and densely rhythmic acoustic guitar lines. The wistful "Love" shows off the more gentle side of Schwarz-Bart's artistry, as he combines woule rhythms with a wordless Brazilian vocal by Stephanie McKay and a graceful jazz piano solo by Milan Milanovic.
This sort of jazz-meets-African vibe, colored with unexpected exotic elements, runs all the way through the mix -- with a warm, tropical stop on the "Descent" -- to the unusually toned closer "Lewoz," an odd-metered track based on the rhythm of the dead that blends woodwind and trumpet in a dance simulating the interaction between heaven and earth.
As Schwarz-Bart follows his own multicultural muse, fans of progressive jazz and various world grooves will enjoy the journey the most.