Album reviews

Arnaud Dolmen – ‘Adjusting’

Arnaud Dolmen – Adjusting
(GAYA 054. Album review by John Stevenson)

36-year-old drummer and composer Arnaud Dolmen is taking the rhythms and musical traditions of his native Guadeloupe, the French Caribbean island, in decidedly new directions.

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Five years on from his acclaimed 2017 debut Tonbé Lévé, his new album Adjusting, combines the rich Gwo Ka music of his island with intelligent jazz improvisation.

Dolmen follows in the tradition of Guadeloupe’s best drummers and percussionists such as Sonny Troupé.

He studied the guadeloupean drum, the ka, from the age of five, then drums at Atelier Marcel Lollia, under the direction of Georges Troupé. As a teenager, his talent came to the fore with the Kimbòl Youth Orchestra. In 2003, he embarked on music studies at the Dante Agostini drum school in Toulouse. Freshly graduated, he began his professional career on the national and international scene alongside Caribbean groups such as So, Franck Nicolas and Dédé Saint-Prix.

Between 2006 and 2015, he was the co-leader of several remarkable bands : Zetliyo, FDH Trio and Nonoexperiment. He has performed around the world alongside Jacques Schwarz-Bart, Bojan Z, Olivier Ker Ourio, Alfredo Rodriguez, Mario Canonge, Naïssam Jalal, Laurent de Wilde, David Linx, Samy Thiébault and Jonathan Jurion, and others. He is in an impressive duo with pianist Leonardo Montana (reviewed here).

Joining him on this highly exploratory 2022 disc – in a unique instrumental configuration – are a troika of saxophonists (Francesco Geminiani, Ricardo Izquierdo and Adrien Sanchez), bassist Samuel F’Hima, pianist Leonardo Montana, Haitian vocalist Moonlight Benjamin, accordionist Vincent Peirani and flautist Naissam Jalal.

Dolmen presents a mix of meters and tempos but the central themes of genesis, surprise and adjustment remain constant.

This is intriguing music, conceived at a very philosophical and spiritually informed level.

The reflective and heavily syncopated Cavernet is inspired by the myth of the caves in Plato’s Republic, with the saxophones in apparent conversation against the backdrop of Dolmen’s drums and the insistent rhythmic pull of F’Hima’s bass.

Peirani’s accordion, featured on SQN, is by no means accidental, echoing the historical use of that instrument in the traditional folk music of Antilles Francaises. The tune refers to the Latin phrase ‘sine qua non’ and ‘getting back to basics’.

Ajisteman, featuring Moonlight Benjamin’s raspy sonorities and For Real speak to the inevitable adjustment to the global pandemic and the great musicians lost during the first lockdown. Drôle de moment salutes the spiritual dimension of life through the clever juxtaposition of unison saxophone lines and solos against the backdrop of shifting drum patterns and displacements.

Sans doute, the future of Guadeloupean jazz is secure with Arnaud Dolmen.

LINK: Arnaud Dolmen’s website

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