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Benjamin Boone with the Ghana Jazz Collective: Joy (Origin)

A review of the reedist's album with the quartet

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Benjamin Boone with the Ghana Jazz Collective: Joy
The cover of Joy by Benjamin Boone with the Ghana Jazz Collective

The Ghana Jazz Collective (saxophonist Bernard Ayisa, keyboardist Victor Dey, Jr., bassist Bright Osei, and drummer Frank Kissi) are an Accra-based contingent whose weekly sessions at the +233 Jazz Bar have become legendary among local aficionados as well as savvy-eared visitors from out of town. Their sound might challenge some listeners’ stereotypes about African jazz musicians—rooted solidly in American funk-fusion and seasoned with healthy dollops of free-form improvisation, it seems to betray few non-Western influences. Their usual repertoire includes such funk-jam standards as Grover Washington Jr.’s “Mister Magic” and Bob James’ “Westchester Lady.” Reedist Benjamin Boone first encountered them while in Ghana on a U.S. Fulbright Scholarship in 2017; he began to sit in with them at the +233, developing a musical relationship that eventually led to the recording of this album. 

The set includes four Boone originals along with a fresh take on Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” and a pair of offerings from composers Jonovan Cooper and Gerry Niewood. Despite the rather well-worn musical territory explored here, Boone and the Collective avoid relying on clichés. The funk is jubilant and propulsive; the solos are both thoughtfully crafted and shot through with brio (especially the saxophone faceoffs between Boone and Ayisa, which blend post-Maceo/Washington booting with ecstatic ascents into freedom). Vocalist Sandra Huson appears on three tracks; Boone’s lachrymose “Without You”—the disc’s sole dud—drowns her in treacle (“When I think of you / I just lay down and cry … I can glimpse you in the rainbows / And in the flowers and the rain … ”), but she rises like an avenging goddess on “Slam,” leaping octaves and wielding her vocal timbre like a rapier until that final “slam,” at which point she brings the entire edifice crashing down around her like an Amazonian Samson. In this case, however, the warrior prophet survives to fight—and dance—anew.

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David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.