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Yosvany Terry: New Throned King

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Mentored and initiated into the West African Dahomeyan tradition in Matanzas, Cuba (where it is known as Arará Sabalú), saxophonist and composer Yosvany Terry set out to document a repertoire of sacred music and ceremony faithfully preserved since the 19th century. The result is an ambitious and valuable addition to Afro-Cuban jazz, uniquely honoring venerated tradition with a thoroughly modern sound.

Terry and his group Ye-Dé-Gbé (meaning “with the approval of the spirits” in Fon), joined by guest pianist Jason Moran, open the album with “Reuniendo La Nacion,” on which Arará drumming and chants dissolve into Terry’s horn, setting the tone for this mystical journey. Based on a ceremonial drum pattern, the tune leads us from times long past into the 21st century through Haitian DJ Val Jeanty’s otherworldly sound design and the leader’s sax incantations. The jubilant, polyrhythmic title track follows, an arrangement of chants and drum toques that is Terry’s imagining of the coronation of the Orisha Asojano (a spirit of healing). The tune highlights the powerful vocals of Pedrito Martinez, who also plays the apitli drum, one in a set of traditional drums central to the sound of this album. Subsequent compositions portray the individual attributes of various Arará deities, conceived through Terry’s unique sensibility. “Laroko,” dedicated to the spirit of Eleguá, introduces chants never before heard outside Matanzas in traditional fashion, with vocals and handclaps only; “Mase Nadodo” features Ishmael Reed reciting a poem honoring Minos, the warrior women of Dahomey.

Playing saxophones, chekere and the middle-pitched wewé drum, Terry leads his band with vision; while documenting and preserving the Arará culture and rhythmic language, he artfully blends its traditional core with a contemporary approach, producing a captivating recording that engages the senses as well as the imagination.

Originally Published