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Nicola Conte: Free Souls

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Italian producer and guitarist Nicola Conte first gained recognition for his cunning re-imaginings of acid jazz via influences from bossa nova, classic Italian film scores and Indian music. More recently, he’s focused solely on Latin jazz. With Free Souls he takes another left turn, constructing a brilliantly complex soul-jazz sound with Latin, African and Afro-Cuban inflections.

Conte’s core group is mostly Italian (Swedish saxophonist Magnus Lindgren the obvious exception), as are the majority of his guests (save American saxophonists Greg Osby and Logan Richardson). But Free Souls is truly a global affair. Six exceptional vocalists weave in and out of his ever-shifting tapestry, including dynamic young Haitian-American Melanie Charles, British-Ghanaian Bridgette Amofah (a powerful mix of Shirley Bassey and Aretha Franklin), the Netherlands’ eminently cool Natasha Tusk (a.k.a. Tasha’s World), Brits Marvin Parks and Heidi Vogel and American José James.

The playlist volleys between Conte originals, exploring liberty from multiple angles, among them the freedom of nature-James’ loose, shimmering “Goddess of the Sea,” Charles’ undulating “Spirit of Nature”-and East Africa’s Uhuru campaigns for independence, plus a curious assortment of covers. Those interpretations include Parks’ oddly but magically upbeat “If I Should Lose You,” Amofah’s sinewy “Baltimore Oriole,” Charles’ furtive “Ahmad’s Blues” and, again from Amofah, a slow-burnin’, Stax-worthy “Ode to Billie Joe.” The rhythms and styles are literally all over the map: breezy bossas, muscular funk, dense African percussion, earthy soul. True to Conte’s grand vision, it is gloriously emancipating.

Originally Published