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Babatunde Lea: March of the Jazz Guerrillas

When this CD arrived I was prepared to dislike it. Bad hair day. Electrician hadn’t shown up again-three weeks late and counting. I begrudgingly ripped open the shrink-wrap, popped open the jewel box and jammed the damn disc in the player. Well, only seconds went by before I realized they call ’em jewel boxes for a reason.

While there’s nothing classic or legendary about it, March of the Jazz Guerrillas is totally enjoyable; a wonderful tapestry of richly woven textures held together by the woof and warp of the drums and percussion of session leader Babatunde Lea. His choice of lower registers in the arrangements throughout most of the tunes creates a hypnotic base for soloists to sail over.

Lea, whose credits include stints with Leon Thomas, Pharoah Sanders, Joe Henderson and McCoy Tyner, among others, has certainly learned well from his various employers. The current recording reveals a clear debt to Thomas and Sanders-and this is not a bad thing.

The band here clicks like magic. No stepping on toes, but rather, an impressive level of communication and understanding. Special nods to additional percussionists Bill Summers and Munyungo Jackson, who sweeten Lea’s basic grooves with an intuitive “rightness,” and pianist Hilton Ruiz and bassist Alex Blake add a not insignificant punch of forward momentum.

A personal druther would leave out the perhaps overly stylized vocals, but that aside, the velvety smoothness and palpable energy of the session command repeated listenings.

Originally Published