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Mali Obomsawin: Sweet Tooth (Out of Your Head)

Review of the bassist's first album as a leader

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Cover of Mali Obomsawin album Sweet Tooth
Cover of Mali Obomsawin album Sweet Tooth

Mali Obomsawin’s debut album as a leader is billed as “a suite for Indigenous resistance” that “flies in the face of Western tropes that insist Indigenous cultures are monolithic, trapped in time.” But with that statement of purpose established, it’s worth noting that Sweet Tooth is a breath of fresh air in a different way: It’s a bassist-as-bandleader album that doesn’t overdose on four strings.

Obomsawin wisely swerves around every cliché regarding a bass player in her position. Her reverence for her accompanists—cornetist and flugelhornist Taylor Ho Bynum, saxophonist Noah Campbell, clarinetist and alto saxophonist Allison Burik, guitarist Mirian Elhajli, and drummer Savannah Harris—means she never renders Sweet Tooth a self-serving affair, despite her name being on the sleeve. Rather, Obomsawin remains the central pillar in the architecture, allowing the rest of the sextet to shine on their own terms.

Elhajli is a wonder throughout—whether providing sparkling comping on acoustic guitar, like on “Fractions,” or picking up an electric and going full John McLaughlin on “Lineage” and “Blood Quantum.” Harris is spectacular too—in equal parts sympathetic and commanding. As for the horn players, they aren’t afraid to go fiery and “out.” But in a way that comports with the album’s well-rounded ethos, their workouts never feel indulgent, always earned.

Sweet Tooth may be Obomsawin’s debut, but it never feels tentative: The compositions and performances meet at a similar high watermark. And, thankfully, it not only works as potent commentary on Indigenous heritage, autonomy and experiences, but as gripping, dynamic, and thunderous music in and of itself. All that without an ounce of overshowing.

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Learn more about Sweet Tooth on Bandcamp

Morgan Enos

Morgan Enos is a music journalist primarily focused on jazz and classic rock — while increasingly plumbing the outer reaches of classical, pop, hip-hop, metal, and more with each passing year. By day, he works as the Staff Writer at GRAMMY.com, an editorial site run by the Recording Academy; by night, he freelances for a number of publications, including JazzTimes. He lives in Hackensack, New Jersey with his wife and two cats. Learn more at morganenos.com.