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Four audacious veterans of creative music comprise The OGJB Quartet, their name derived from each of their first initials. Saxophonist Oliver Lake, cornetist Graham Haynes, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Barry Altschul showcase their individual brilliance and their shared artistic vision on the captivating and provocative Bamako. The title track, as its name suggests, is heavily influenced by Malian motifs. Haynes, who penned it, plays the harp-like dousn’gouni, the reverberations of which contrast hauntingly with Fonda’s resonant bowing. Joining them in constructing this cinematic ambience, Altschul plays m’bira (an African plucked idiophone). Lake takes center stage with his flittering saxophone lines and follows them with an evocative recitation of his poignant poem “Broken in Parts.”
The rest of the album doesn’t have this international flavor, yet the delightfully tense atmosphere, the thrilling spontaneity and the seamless group synergy remain. Fonda’s “Listen to Dr. Cornel West,” for instance, features passionate and dissonant exchanges between Haynes and Lake, as well as expressive and musing solos from both players. Fonda bisects the composition with his brilliantly agile solo, and Altschul contributes thundering beats that propel the tune and conclude it on a fiery note.
Simultaneously melancholic and uplifting, Altschul’s “Just a Simple Song” is equally intriguing. Built on a three-note refrain, this unique piece is filled with solemn spirituality. The horns’ short, pensive phrases and the rhythm duo’s sparse thrums and thuds make for a dynamic performance that is about hope enveloped in caution.
As is the norm with the TUM label, this stimulating CD comes with an informative booklet and beautifully abstract cover art, in this case by Finnish painter Max Salmi. Even without the elegant packaging, Bamako is soulful and urgent enough to satisfy on both emotional and intellectual levels.— Hrayr Attarian https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_02_jqWx6g
Featured photo by R.I. Sutherland-Cohen.