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Gail Thompson: Jazz Africa

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This bandleader, composer, and flutist may not garner any household recognition in American jazz homes, but in Britain her accomplishments both in and behind Europe’s jazz scene have elevated her to almost Marsalisian heights. After many noteworthy triumphs ranging from playing baritone saxophone with the late Art Blakey to composing and performing suites for the Royal Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall to serving as CEO of the Arts Council Great Britain Music Panel, Thompson made an extensive venture to Africa, where she visited 13 countries. There she not only absorbed a motherlode of musics and cultures of the varying African countries, but unselfishly reciprocated by conducting free local jazz workshops in Africa.

This collection of musical portraits serves as a spirited and reflective summation of her tenure in Africa. Although her raspy flute playing sadly gets little spotlight, Thompson’s compositions do more than make up for her performance shyness. All six compositions are powerful in their directedness, rich texture and dynamic scope; and with the impressive ten-piece orchestra, they are fully realized with great aplomb. From the driving stomp of “Kamara River,” that features some riveting trumpet action from Claude Deppa and Harry Beckett, to the jaunty, yet serene “Burkina Faso,” the irrepressible joy of the recording never ceases.