On an early Spring night in Boston, MA., spritely sounds of Mozambique-inspired music filled the air at the Middle East Club (“Middle East”) in Cambridge, MA. as vocalist, guitarist and band leader Helder Tsinine fired up his comrades in his agile ensemble, Kina Zore, to dance the night away with a capacity audience in tow. Kina Zore (www.kinazore.com) is a Boston based band that grooves with confidence. Tsinine’s stutter-stepping guitar lines interweave with his relaxed vocal phrasing and the tightly exuberant bursts of brass and percussion to create joyful dance. Kina Zore’s bright rhythms saturate their carousing music which takes its inspiration from the rich watering holes of Mozambique’s (and other African nations’) dance clubs in its blend of reggae, calypso and the shine of South African township beats.
Kina Zore’s performance at the Middle East focused on propulsive cuts taken from their 2015 debut recording, Tchova Nyolo [“Tchova”; available at www.kinazore.com], a rollicking fun recording with some sonic limitations. Tsinine’s voice is captured present and dynamic but the rest of the recording suffers generally from that “tunnel vision” sound that characterizes many pop recordings: too dominant a bass; instruments cramped unnaturally together with little space or air between them and an overall homogenous quality to instrumental textures and dynamics.
Even with these sonic deficiencies, however, Kina Zore’s music takes flight on their debut recording and never lets up – and that is what is so special about this sharp ensemble. Tsinine’s original compositions are pulsating dance creations, riding exuberantly on Michel Prentky’s trombone blasts; Galen Willeet’s propulsive bass and Dillon Zahner’s light touches on guitar and percussive accents.
At their live performance at the Middle East, Kina Zore’s version of Tsinine’s “Tchova Nyolo” (“Keep Pushing, Never Give Up”) was ignited on big bass drum hits from drummer Wendyam Jean Edward Emerson that steadfastly led into a waltzing dance swirling on Tsinine’s flowing vocals and Prentky’s soulful trombone punches. The song built to a swaying crescendo propelled by dense bass lines, slashing cymbal and snare hits and fervent vocal calls from all members of the band.
Tsinine’s original compositions contain an enticing combination of undulating bass and percussive lines that meld with fluttering guitar lines and vocals- all in the service of dance. Fine examples are the opening cut to Tchova, “Awu Duhalanga (“You’re Still Young”) and “Xitsungo Xa Africa.” In concert, the band reveled in these numbers led by Tsinine’s expressive vocals that rose and fell to his hummingbird quick guitar notes. This dancing drama floated over a foundation of Willeet’s giddy bass lines, Prentky’s raucous trombone calls and Emerson’s steadfast and bracing kick drum. “Dambu Dza Pela (“Its Getting Dark”) delivered a slow boiling sway that led to a radiant exit by the band (with the capacity crowd holding their hands high) as the circular dance faded in the deft quiet strokes from Tsinine’s shining guitar.
Tsinine’s lithe percussive guitar style brings to mind the sounds of another innovative guitarist and voice from Africa: Lionel Loueke. Loueke hails from the West Africa nation of Benin and also has Boston roots as a alumnus of Berklee College of Music. I have highlighted Loueke’s artistry before, most recently in covering a concert by him and his creative partners in their band, Aziza (whose debut recording on Dare2 Records was one of the gems of 2016) at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre this past Spring. [http://downbeat.com/news/detail/supergroup-aziza-brings-propulsive-jazz-to-cambridge].
For another beautiful slice of Loueke’s creative artistry, grab a copy of Imagine That [Anzic Records; www.anzicrecords.com], a stellar recording from drummer/composer Daniel Freedman. Imagine That is an audiophile gem in every respect: it delivers superb tactile presence, great image dimensionality and dazzling musicianship captured in all its string and deep bass glory. Freedman has brought together a group of virtuosi musicians who each stake out their own creative space on this sprawling session: Loueke on guitar; Jason Linder on piano and keyboards; Omar Avital on bass and oud; Gilmar Gomes on percussion and Freedman on drums.
An African pulse animates the entire session, moving from the whirl of Yemenese dance (with Avital’s oud and Loueke’s sharp guitar licks prancing around Freedman and Gomes’ kinetic percussion) to the soaring rise of Nigerian beats in Freedman’s “Baby Aya,” with a guest appearance from vocalist Angelique Kidjo.
Kidjo lends her lush and creative vocal energy to soar alongside Loueke’s impeccable light guitar touches and an exuberant dance that takes off on many different drum and wood surfaces in Freedman and Gomes’ dazzling chemistry.
Loueke’s incisive guitar and vocals frolic pensively in his own composition, “Mindaho”, a free-wheeling creation that cascades unpredictably around Freedman’s slashes of cymbal and snare; Gomes’ big conga hits and Linder’s twinkling piano.
Linder is a creative keyboard presence throughout, composing two contrasting pieces on this recording. “Determined Soul” opens the album with a strutting groove bursting with Linder’s oblique keyboard colors and mashing chords. His other piece here, “Love Takes Time” is a beautiful slow ballad with a churning bluesy groove propelled by Avital’s urgent bass lines. Avital’s bass is gloriously captured on this recording in each one of his focused tuneful plunges.
On Freedman’s “Eastern Elegy,” Avital throws a cool glow with his roving bass solo, reflecting the stately slow pace of this piece, evocative and dreamy on Linder’s piano reaches and Freeman’s kinetic wood rim hits. The album concludes on a Freedman composition, “Sisters Dance” that ignites on the wonderment of Loueke’s creative percussive vocals and guitar bursts and ends in a flurry of percussive and bass dance that reaches for the sky. This is music of global unity and creative assault, an unfolding marvel.
Another new musical gift from the African continent, also propelled by great guitar and string chemistry, is the recent gem of a recording by The Toure-Raichel Collective (”Collective”), entitled The Paris Session [Cumbancha; www.cumbancha.com]. The core of the Collective unites Israeli pianist and composer, Idan Raichel, with Malian singers and guitarists Vieux Farka Toure and Daby Toure (playing bass at this session) and several guest artists. Here is music of liberation and unity, richly and boldly crossing all musical borders from Israel to Ethopia to Mali and beyond. The recording is resplendent with instrumental textures and colors; an expansive soundstage and flowing air and incredible deep tactile bass (if your audio system is up to the challenge!). For instance, “Allassal Terey” flows upon a lush carpet of Daby Toure’s stentorian bass runs that provide the foundation beneath Vieux Farka Toure’s spiky guitar eruptions and Raichel’s flowing piano lines.
Those same expansive bass notes glow like coals underneath the light percussion and roiling piano of the stately piece “Tidhar”; the roving little gem “Diame” and the opening swashbuckling number, “From End To End”, where Niv Toar’s searing trumpet tumbles and arches in the beautifully layered soundstage.
It is fascinating to hear the differences in the African/Middle Eastern vocal styles captured up-front and present on this superb recording. “Hodu” finds Raichel’s vocals lightly chanting in Hebrew in a circular pattern (next to swirling stick percussion) that catches the earthy grit of the Malian singers’ baritones in their own language. The two languages (and the creative intonations of all singers) dip and soar together in a softy-dancing journey of unity. “Diaraby” is a lilting ballad with expressive voices in a near- whisper next to Raichel’s beguilingly piano caresses. The album concludes with two glorious bookends: the roiling “Deni Deni” (tremulous on kinetic guitars, percussive wood hits and Raichel’s shimmering keyboards) and ending with the pensive “Philipa.” This last cut glows with craggy vocals and shining guitar sputters, joined at the hip with Raichel’s soft piano and Daby Toure’s deep heartbeat bass. The song’s surging melody expresses all the hope and vitality of an African continent moving forward.