Nora Kamm (saxophone, flute, vocals); Nicholas Vellas (piano and keyboards); Dharil Esso (drums); Ranto Rakotomalala (bass). Guest musicians: Nguyen Le (guitar); Paco Séry (drums); Salimata “Tina” Traoré (vocals), Jorge Bezella (percussion).
Recorded Studio Soult and Studio De L’Aube, both Paris, France. No recording date
There is an impressive lineage of women jazz saxophonists that includes Barbara Thompson, Vi Redd, Camille Thurman, Tia Fuller, Jess Gillam and Candy Dulfer. Nora Kamm can be added to this list. The young German musician plays alto sax, soprano sax and flute, as well as being a vocalist. She is also a composer (all the tunes on this album are written by her) and arranger. Kamm has worked with various musicians including, Manu Dibango, Andy Sheppard and Eric Truffaz, and this is her third album.
Kamm lives in Paris and has embraced the music of Africa, from places such Mali, Senegal and Cameroon. Her band has a multi-national line-up and plays music that is a joyous mix of jazz, Afro and funk – this is truly a global jazz endeavour.
The opening number, ‘One’ was selected as a single, and it’s easy to see why. Inspired by an old melody from Mali, it’s an upbeat, uptempo number with a driving beat, joyous chanting and a sweet melody played on soprano sax. Added to the mix are a kora (African stringed instrument) played by Cheikh Diallo and Djembe (African drum), played by Adama Bilorou. If this doesn’t get your feet moving, you should see a doctor – fast.
‘Coeur’ (‘Heart’) has a deep Afro groove, with Ranto Rakotomalala playing a bass line that is so heavy, it could hold down a tent during a hurricane. Guest musician Nguyen Le plays a searing guitar solo, while Kamm’s alto adds even more body to the sound. ‘Chuku, Chuku’ (it means ‘great spirit’ in the language of the Igbo people of Nigeria) has a terrific four-to-the-floor beat played by Dharil Esso. Kamm plays a mix of melodic lines, and terse, punchy phrases, while Rakotomalala delivers a lightning bass solo. ‘First Flight’ gives you a chance to recover your breath. This serene, mid-tempo piece includes dreamy, drifting, wordless vocals that rise up like a heat haze over a scorching hot tarmac road. Kamm plays elegant, gentle lines, and Nicolas Vellas’s synth solo sounds like birdsong.
‘Flowing People,’ reminds me of the musical collaborations of David Sanborn and Marcus Miller. Guest drummer Paco Séry plays on his hi-hat, before laying down a heavy syncopated beat, accompanied by Jorge Bezella’s clattering percussion, and Rakotomalala’s powerful funk bass vamp. Kamm’s silky sax glides over the rhythm track. The song also includes chanting vocals and is one of my favourite pieces. ‘Tu Ma Ndem’ (‘Thank you’ in Igbo) starts off with drifting, wordless vocals and solo piano, but soon transforms into a powerful syncopated piece. ‘Leader’ is another uptempo song with a driving beat, as Kamm demonstrates her prowess on both flute and alto. ‘Light’ combines funk bass lines with a strong backbeat, and Rakotomalala unveils a fast, fluent, Stanley Clarke-like bass solo. It’s a highly satisfying number.
‘Africa My Love’ is a celebration of this vast, sprawling, diverse continent. Kamm’s alto dances along to Esso’s busy array of off-beats and accents – there’s an uplifting quality to the sound. The closing number, the midtempo, ‘Sensible’ starts with the plaintive cry of the alto, heralding the entrance of Salimata “Tina” Traoré’s haunting vocals – it’s gorgeous performance, with the alto doubling up or answering her in places. Guest artists Frédéric G. Kouamé and Lugwig Nestor add powerful chanting vocals to the sound. My only complaint is that the track is too short, and after just over three minutes, it ends. I’d love to hear a live, extended version of this piece.
This album is an excellent example of how jazz and African music can blend to create an exciting, intoxicating mix of sounds. It’s only January, but I already know one album that will be on my list of albums of the year. Well worth a good listen.