On Soul Pools drummer Babatunde Lea presents an inspiring fusion of African-derived beats with traditional jazz rhythms. With an East Coast combo of John Benitez (bass), Kevin Jones (percussion), Ku-umba Frank Lacy (trombone), Hilton Ruiz (piano) and Mario Rivera (reeds, flute), the 48-year-old, Vallejo, Calif., resident opens the CD with the stop-time, Afro-bop vehicle "Confrontation." Off and running, the flurry of tempos and rhythms doesn't stop: Kenny Garrett's "Jackie and the Beanstalk" becomes a romping 6/8 swing, "1055" is a great medium-up shuffle and there are plenty of twists and turns on "Ejercito Moreno."
It's refreshing to hear Rivera, a mainstay of the New York City Latin-jazz and salsa scene, blow on a mostly straightahead setting. Ruiz, too, brings beautiful comping, montunos and solos, and Benitez and Jones are solid. But it's Lacy who proves to be a perfect musical match for Lea, with the trombonist's excellent arrangements, playing and compositions.
"Whoa Baba!" takes on special meaning with the recent passing of Nigerian drum master Babatunde Olatunji, who mentored Lea and cowrote the piece. Lea was 11 years old when he saw Olatunji with his Drums of Passion band, and he was deeply influenced by what this "baba" (father) brought to jazz.
Soul Pools is an exceptional, spirited effort by a gifted artist and also a rising new label, Motema, which has added a second bonus disc that contains an extended jam of "Footprints" at Rassela's in San Francisco, with Ernie Watts on tenor sax.