Twisty fusion, low-slung funk and world-music textures all mingle and mix with joyful abandon on How Near How Far, the fourth album led by Etienne Mbappe, the Cameroon-born bassist best known for his work with John McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension, supergroup the Ringers and Joe Zawinul. This time out, he creates his lush soundscapes and hard-driving rhythms with the help of a new band, the Prophets: trumpeter/flugelhornist Arno de Casanove, tenor saxophonist Herve Gourdikian, guitarist Anthony Jambon, pianist Christophe Cravero, violinist Clement Janinet and drummer Nicolas Viccaro.
Mbappe honors two major influences with tunes name-checking them—“Milonga in 7 (to Astor Piazzolla)” salutes the Argentine tango master with a sprightly horns-and-violin melody, an engaging extended solo by Cravero and quick-shifting breaks. “Day Message (to Joe Zawinul),” at more than seven minutes the longest tune here, allies pastel melody lines to percolating bass grooves, unexpected unison riffs and solo turns by Gourdikian and Jambon.
How Near How Far opens with “John Ji,” a piece cross-cutting West African rhythms with brash brass statements before giving way to more open terrain for sprawling tenor and piano solos. “Lagos Market” evokes the hustle and bustle of such a setting, and gives Mbappe the opportunity to showcase his prodigious funk chops. “Bad as I’m Doing” gets its kicks from alternating metal-esque basslines and out-of-nowhere speedy fusion lines that sweep in before making sudden retreats.
Mbappe caps it all with a lush ballad, “Musango Na Wa,” dominated by flickering guitar, flugelhorn and violin, and fronted by the leader’s own rich, expressive vocals. His singing proves emotionally compelling even for a listener who doesn’t speak Mbappe’s language. Neat trick.