Afropeans is one of 2008’s most exciting releases. The second album by the Jazz Warriors (London saxophonist Courtney Pine’s 15-piece band) juxtaposes Pine’s trademark genre-blending with the immediacy of live performance. It relies heavily on rhythms and orchestrations from West Africa—but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Commissioned for the 200th anniversary of Britain’s slave-trade abolition, Pine’s suite ironically honors the diaspora that resulted from that very practice. Elements of classical piano (“Remercier Les Travelleurs”), ska (“Blak Flag,” Harry Brown’s trombone uncannily echoing Jamaican godfather Don Drummond) and Afro-Cuban (“Abolition Day”) meld with hand percussion, traditional Malian melody and horn-centric Afro pop from the likes of Nigeria’s Fela Kuti.
The Warriors add recurring tidbits from the New World—Samuel Dubois’ West Indian steelpans, American jazz chords and swing via pianist Alex Wilson and drummer Robert Fordjour—mindful of where slavery did not end in 1807. Pine also weaves in more recent styles, such as funk and fusion: “Crossing the Sands,” with its dark groove, trumpet and bass clarinet, might have come from Bitches Brew, while the insistent beat, meandering melody and Omar Puente’s electric violin (channeled through a wah-wah pedal, no less) on “Apunta Un Lapiz” evoke the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Therein lies the continuing influence and tension of African peoples in the West.
This can’t convey the thrill of hearing the music, however; it’s like discovering that all the languages of the world can suddenly, and effortlessly, communicate with each other. Afropeans will be tough to beat this year.