CD review

Kevin Haynes Grupo Elegua – “Ajo Se Po”

Kevin Haynes Grupo Elegua – Ajo Se Po
(jazz re:freshed / Digital/all streaming platforms. Album review by Adam Sieff)

Kevin Haynes has been a presence since his days as a percussionist in Steve Williamson’s band 30 years ago, with a strong musical calling card as an alto saxophonist and drummer with deep knowledge of the music and traditions of Cuba and Nigeria, with Yoruba spirituality as the driving force. He is a teacher, community mentor and on the recording side contributed to Moses Boyd’s Displaced Diaspora sessions and the Brownswood Recordings’ We Out Here collaboration project.

He has the jazz re:freshed label in his corner who have been promoting shows and placing him in creative alliances, such as last year’s Afro-Cuban collaboration project alongside the percussionist Hammadi Valdes and electronic producer Vince Vellla.

The label is now reissuing his third Grupo Elegua album Aja Se Po that Haynes put out himself in 2008. It’s a digital-only release complete with striking new artwork from jazz re:freshed’s co-founder Justin Mckenzie.

The lineup features the Senegalese kora player Diabel Cissohko, batá drummers Ronald Thomas and Bill Bland, pianist Jonathan Idiagbonya, double bassist Neville Malcolm, kit drummer Shane Forbes, vocalist/narrator Lanre Olafia Olemuyiwa and vocalists Illam Jalal and Paula Allen. Haynes plays alto saxophone, batá drums, is the lead vocalist and wrote all the words and music.

Aje Se Po (the Yoruba expression means ‘Our doing together’, togetherness for common good, or just ‘unity’*) comprises six tracks, the first three are Afro jazz excursions all weighing in at over 10 minutes, followed by a trio of shorter folkloric pieces. Each track develops out of its own batá rhythm and is dedicated to a particular divinity, (or ‘Orisha’). There are plenty of ingredients cooking here: Afro-Cuban melodies, folkloric batá, traditional Nigerian and Mandinga folk alongside hard bop and contemporary jazz.

The album starts with real purpose, Mojuba Olorun begins with a short narrative before the drummers lock in, the strong melody line is established and Haynes and pianist Idiagbonya play highly enjoyable solos. There’s a call and response vocal section before the head returns and winds things up. Next comes the slower and thoroughly moody Oshogbo, followed by a steep rise in tempo with Orisa Papa Obi, for me the highlight of the album with more excellent alto and piano solos.

After those three long tracks, the focus shifts to more traditional folkloric forms, with voices and drums now the main feature. Hebwa Baba features Diabel Cissohko’s delicate kora playing while Apotura is stripped back to just voices and drums before the exceptional ensemble percussion of Egungun Ana Cuba rounds the album off on a highpoint.

There’s much to like. The playing is often inspired with plenty of deep feeling -– both Haynes and Idiagbonya are fine soloists – and the batá drumming is fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the first three extended tracks with their more jazz-oriented style. But I appreciate there’s much more that Kevin Haynes has to say, and he does so very eloquently and sincerely.

(*) Thank you Jumoké Fashola!

Ajo Se Po is released today and is available on the jazzrefreshed Bandcamp site: jazzrefreshed.bandcamp.com 

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