The Karuna Trio – Imaginary Archipelago
(Metarecords Meta 024. CD Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)
The imaginary archipelago of this album title is an area of ‘high mountains and dense forests, warm deserts and cool caves, ancient villages and futuristic cities’ (sleeve notes). There is thus a strong element of Afrofuturism about the approach to the music, which is reinforced by its subtle use of electronic processing to create an ambient feel to the whole album. This ‘shadow line’ of sound is seen as the voice of the ancestors and as ‘sonic masking’, reflecting the use in African culture of masks to create a separate identity for the wearer.
The Karuna Trio is Adam Rudolph on percussion and electronics, Ralph M. Jones on flute, bamboo, flute, saxophones and bass clarinet, and Hamid Drake on drums and percussion. All three musicians have worked together in this trio for many years and clearly share an ability to draw on other music to add to their jazz playing. Rudolph has been a pioneer of global music both in his Moving Pictures ensemble and in his collaborations with Don Cherry and Yusef Lateef. He first collaborated with Hamid Drake in 1978 in the Mandingo Griot Society group that they co-founded along with kora player Jali Foday Musa Suso, and with Ralph Jones, whom he has known since they were both teenagers, in Chicago in the 1960s. Together they have made a number of duo recordings and performances.
The music on the album is very distinctive. It seems mostly to be improvised and the blending of the ambient sounds produced by the processing of Jones’ various woodwind instruments with the African-influenced drumming and percussion of Drake and Rudolph is very effective. In a sense there is a dialogue between the gentle atmosphere of the woodwind and the grit of the percussion that creates a music that has its own original character. To describe it as African-influenced jazz or jazz-tinged African music would be wrong; this is music with its own character.
There are 11 tracks, most of which are relatively short in length. In these, the mood is one of mystery and contemplation created by the processing of the woodwind, but the drumming of Drake and the percussion of Rudolph ensure that the music does not drift into empty repetition. The two long tracks at just over 10 minutes each are led initially by the percussion and are therefore more upbeat; they feature an extensive duet between the two percussionists before Jones comes in on flute. Track 10, Vajna, features vocal chanting that builds to a very strong climax.
I see this as an excellent example of how contemporary musicians are creating fresh and innovative music through interaction with electronica.