Samba Ngo: Metamorphosis

For further proof that dance music needn’t bypass the brain, check out the smart, jubilant sound of Zaire-born Samba Ngo’s Metamorphosis (Compass 4258; 40:03). This vocalist-guitarist leads his band in Congolese music of melodic solidity, blessed with intricately-layered rhythmic forces, creating a complex and satisfying palette of ideas and sounds. If some Afro-pop leans too far in a westerly direction, robbing some of the indigenous heritage, Ngo works up a wonderful, workable mix of influences, full of rich vocal pads and a seductive rhythmic matrix of guitar parts, drums and tasteful horn-and-synth parts. Recorded in Oakland, it includes some fine solos, with a jazz flavor, from Ray Clement, Paul Hansen and Rich Armstrong-not to mention Ngo himself, a limber guitarist. At a meager 40 minutes in length, you’re left wanting, temporally, from this CD, but that’s a mixed gripe: the strength of the music whets the appetite for more.