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The Alchemy Sound Project - Afrika Love is completely absorbing and needs to be listened to / sisgwenjazz

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SISGWEN writes....Ever think you knew a tune  – and then hear a new version that makes you completely revise your impression? Think, for example, of John Coltrane reintroducing you to the Julie Andrews' lightweight musical comedy song My Favourite Things.

Often, it happens when you hear a recorded track live for the first time, and the space for more extended improvisations unpacks just how much possibility it contains. This time, it happened the other way round. We've all heard tenor saxophonist Salim Washington's composition Afrika Love live or streamed at least a few times: a beautiful lush ballad you can let yourself sink into, right?

Well, not quite. It's still that, and still beautiful, but in the version released last month by the US-based Alchemy Sound Project, as the title track of their third album Afrika Love many other possibilities of its compositional inspiration in an isiZulu pitch system assert themselves. Alchemy Sound Project is a US-based ensemble, and for these diverse musicians the shape, inflection and movement of the sounds are clearly just so damn intriguing they can't resist exploring them. So we have percussive shadows in bassist David Arends' solo, trumpeter Samantha Boshnack soaring over some unexpected tone colours and call-and-response conversations between ensemble and the saxes of Erica Lindsay and then Washington that also hint at dialogues between swing and amahubo.

If you like what Carla Bley or Gil Evans or even Maria Schneider can do with much bigger collections of musicians, there are ideas in tighter focus here that will catch your ears.  Less like those three, and more like Mingus, time is constantly challenged: in improvisation, a pulse has as much right to pause and explore an intriguing new idea as a melody does. If you already know Taylor's work, his contribution is crucial; if you don't, think Tumi Mogorosi, who comes from a similar planet. To put it another way, it's pretty hard to describe the music except to say it's completely absorbing and needs to be listened to, not discussed. Tonooka has said that when the group initially came together, she didn't know what would emerge "but I had an idea it would be pretty special." She was right.    

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