David Murray has recorded so many albums and moved into so many different directions throughout his 25-year career that it’s hard to predict where he will go next. But on his most recent project, Yonn-Dé,
he has returned to his investigation of Guadeloupean music--specifically gwo-ka
--that he presented on his earlier work, Creole.
Murray has brought some of his regular players to join in the multi-cultural synthesis at the same time that he allows the masters of the genre to take the lead, both vocally and percussively. The first time that Murray blended jazz with the music from the French Antilles on Creole,
comparisons were made to Fela Kuti or Baaba Maal, artists who remained true to their native countries’ music but who merge it with a world beat for universal appeal.
That’s what happens on Yonn-Dé.
For the similarities of the African beat, ever present and continuous through the lead of the ka drum, and jazz, sinuous and bluesy and dampening the energy with an offsetting groan and growl, become evident as the CD proceeds. More than paying respect to the culture of Guadaloupe, Murray absorbs it, imagining the origins of the nocturnal dancing and singing that form the basis of their oral traditions. Once Murray met the "masters" of David Murray & The Gwo-Ka Masters,
Guy Konket and Klod Kiavué, and traveled to their homeland with them, he--like Randy Weston, who promoted the Gnawa musicians of Morocco--found a voice, authentic and folkloric, that hadn’t received sufficient exposure. Murray too took up the cause of increasing recognition for music that celebrates the lives of its practitioners and which forms a part of the larger whole of African-derived music.
While all of that may sound forced or pedantic, the pleasures of David Murray & The Gwo-Ka Masters
are too natural and appealing for analysis, or even resistance. Rather, the gwo-ka
music washes over the listener with its trance-like emphasis upon repetitive rhythms and the abandonment of complex chord changes. Laying down a foundation for the participants’ involvement, the music invites narrative elaboration or exclamation throughout its irresistible current. "Twa Jou San Manjé" ("Three Days Without Food") starts with the singers’ introductory call before the circular structure of the tune enlivens the lament. But it’s the song’s middle section where the synthesis becomes complete, Murray repeating the motive before launching into an extended knowing story of blues on his own tenor sax while Konket howls.
Santi Debriano’s statement at the beginning of "Youyou" makes clear that his contribution is as vital to the success of the project as that of the ka drums, instruments originally created from discarded metal containers from slave ships. Firmly rooting the tune with a repeated groove that would animate dancers of any culture, Debriano creates the occasion for the singing-as-dialogue ease. Kiavué comments upon the thoughts that Konket presents through conversational lines intertwining as trumpeter Hugh Ragin flutter-tongues, blares and weaves through the songs.
Onomatopée (Boula Djél), reminiscent in its own way of some of the vocal work of Bobby McFerrin, consists solely of the male voices establishing their own percussion, comments interjected occasionally as Murray adds color on bass clarinet. And then there’s "La Pli La," which contains many of the elements that make "Youyou" so successful, Debriano’s throbbing bass contributing to and receiving the hypnotic rhythms of the ka drums. In this case, however, the tune is punctuated by trumpet and trombone blurts and unison lines. The authenticity of the gwo-ka
music seems to have led the Americans to shed all mannerisms. Instead, they illuminate the commonalities between the cultures that wouldn’t have seemed as apparent without the blending of styles, jazz and gwo-ka,
derived from African percussion.