Waaju – Grown
(Olindo Records ORLP005. Review by Graham Spry)
If there is one common theme to be found in much of the exciting and innovative music being produced by young jazz musicians in London at the moment, it must be the love for and influence of music from Africa, especially that from Mali and Nigeria. Waaju, meaning ‘to urge, inspire or influence to take action’ in Mali’s Bambara language, is a group led by drummer and percussionist Ben Brown that is clearly acknowledging these influences. But, although they are plain to hear in the music, it isn’t simply a straight-forward copy. The compositions on Waaju’s new album, Grown, are credited to all five band members and the result is fresh, contemporary London jazz, which draws from elements of both great African music and the many other global influences found in the capital’s rich cultural palette.
Like many of London’s young jazz bands, Waaju is somewhat of a supergroup. Each of the members perform with many other groups as well as leading their own projects. Joe Downard, the bassist, has released an acclaimed debut album on Ubuntu. Tal Janes, the guitarist, has performed with the likes of Nubiyan Twist, Maisha, SEED Ensemble and Zara McFarlane. Sam Rapley, the saxophonist, has performed with Misha Mullov-Abbado and Maria Chiara Argirò as well as his own band, Fabled. The London-based Venezuelan Ernesto Marichales, who has performed with Jordan Rakei and Sigala, complements Ben Brown on percussion.
Grown is Waaju’s second album following their first self-titled record, also on Olinda Records, that was released in 2018 and is also well worth a listen. The new album is mostly quite mellow and relaxed, and very danceable. Moleman, the first track, sets the mood with clattering percussion that soon becomes overlaid by electric guitar and saxophone, gradually building up to something almost wild. Listening Glasses is the single taken off the album and whose mood shifts around a strong and memorable central beat. Joe Downard’s bass dominates Rollando where the use of echo and gently plucked guitar make it sound almost like dub. This is also the case with the track Wassoulou, which features drums and percussion that thunder cavernously in places before relaxing into a more laid-back rhythm. The song Time’s Got a Holdis co-written with Jordan Rakei and features vocals from Will Heard who is best known for performing with bands outside of jazz such as Klangkarussell and Rudimental. The title track Grown closes the album with the rhythm steadily ascending from a relatively quiet start to a crescendo with a solid melody.
Although the global influences in Waaju’s music are there for those who wish to find them, the music feels organic and unforced. These influences are mostly just an extra palette from which the band can draw to build compositions whose rhythm and feel is both danceable and reflective.
The band is on Olinda Records: the recording branch of the Colectivo Futuro artistic enterprise which broadcasts on the online radio station Soho Radio and promotes artistically authentic and innovative creativity that brings ‘a new light on the traditional’. It is enterprises such as this that help support young jazz musicians in London and make the capital such an exhilarating place for contemporary jazz.