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March 2009

Richard Bona
Bona Makes You Sweat
Decca/Emarcy

What with the recent rise of Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke into the ranks of the jazz scene, bolstering a precedent set by fluid Cameroonian-in-Brooklyn electric bass wonder Richard Bona, a new mini-movement of instrumentally virtuosic and vocally expressive African-jazz artists on major labels is upon us. Bona’s fifth and latest album—his first live recording—further confirms what we already know: Bona is one of the master electric bassists in our midst, not to mention a vocal conjurer with a natural flair, but one who tends to adopt the garb of sweet-spirited, unpretentious entertainer in his role as solo artist.

With his solid quintet, Bona not only traverses sultry African grooves and flavors, but taps into organic and culturally aligned Afro-Latin strains in the African Diaspora. But it’s not as if he’s out to assert any musical history lessons on the job. Bona pays brief homage to his former employer and kindred spirit Joe Zawinul (who passed away shortly after this recording was made) with the keyboardist’s elliptical tune “Indiscretions.” But the Zawinul-iana is used as a somewhat contrarian introduction to Bona’s buoyant and Al Jarreau-ish vocal tune “Please Don’t Stop.” To be sure, Bona is an extra-limber singer, and weaves in more supple vocal chops on the album than bass bedazzlement, particularly on the a cappella (plus deft looping/harmonizing) workout of “Samaouma.”

For all his deep-dish musicality and capacity for virtuosity on tap, in his role as a bandleader, Bona likes to keep the party rolling and the material on the simple, celebratory side. It’s hard to complain about his life-affirming attitude and anti-elitist entertainer’s instincts, but some of us long for at least a little bit of the kind of intellectual and dexterous firepower he’s capable of, which Zawinul might have called the stuff of “brain attacks.”

Originally published in March 2009
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