Recording Date: Oct 13, 2004-Oct 16, 2004
The casual listener might be forgiven for hearing Sakesho's second album as Caribbean-inflected lite jazz. There's certainly never an unpleasant (or even aurally challenging) moment on these nine tracks, and the instrumentation is about as straight-ahead as you can get and still include steel pans: drummer Jean-Philippe Fanfant, bassist Michel Alibo and pianist Mario Canonge support leader Andy Narell's virtuosic pan playing with wit, grace and elegance. But those familiar with the more esoteric dance music traditions of the Caribbean will hear much more. The foundation of Sakesho's music is biguine, the intensely syncopated and polyrhythmic music of Martinique. Canonge and Alibo are both natives of Martinique, and their effortless grasp of this highly difficult music is part of what makes the songs on We Want You to Say sound so deceptively light and simple. Listen closely to "Ewa Belia" and you'll hear four or five different layers of complex polyrhythm going on at any one time, each of them shifting and adjusting from moment to moment. "Dance Ska La" sounds like a cross between the Skatalites and Ruben Gonzalez, while "Jou La Pli" combines a five/four rhythm with mysterious vocals to stunning effect.
All Music Guide
"WE WANT YOU TO SAY…" SAKESHO CREATES A NEW WORLD GROOVE
Featuring Steel Pan Master Andy Narell with Pianist Mario Canonge, Bassist Michel Alibo and Drummer Jean Philippe Fanfant
Jazz happens live. And in the twenty-four months between Sakesho's second release, We Want You to Say… (HUCD 3094), and their first, the band - a jazz quartet with roots deep in the French Caribbean - has mostly been doing what it does best: traveling around the world playing great live jazz in venues from Paris to Trinidad, New York to Zurich.
Now Sakesho (pronounced sah kay show) - which features steelpan master Andy Narell, pianist Mario Canonge, bassist Michel Alibo and drummer Jean Philippe Fanfant - has captured the special excitement of their live performances on a new studio recording, We Want You to Say… (HUCD 3094), set for release on Heads Up International on April 26, 2005. We took what we've been developing onstage into the studio," says Narell, "along with nine new tunes and a whole lot of rehearsing."
The opening track, "Bwa Moudong," from Mario Canonge, is a biguine - the syncopated, polyrhythmic music from the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. It's almost a bebop biguine. What did you expect? The tempo changes are amazing.
"Ewa Belia" is Jean Philippe Fanfant's first composition for Sakesho. It's based on the belia - a traditional rhythm in 3/4-time from Martinique - normally played on a drum which you sit on, along with the ti bois (petit bois or little wood), the stick part. The quartet is so tight you can practically hear the guys breathing together. As noted, it's in 3/4, but between the high-hat, kick drum, and snare, which are all playing different variations, it's so syncopated and funky that you might think it's something else. Special guest Angelique Kidjo adds her vocal magic to the mix.
Narell's "One More Touch" is a beautiful mazooka (or mazurka) in 3/4-time - although you might never guess. "The mazooka is so adaptable, with various elements of 6/8 and 3/4 time, it's a great vehicle for the band," says Narell. "It lends itself equally well to dance music and more subtle, complex writing. This song combines both elements."
Canonge's "Dance Ska La" is recognizably a Jamaican ska - although Sakesho is not trying to sound like a Jamaican band. It spotlights Mario's gift for writing tunes that sound much simpler than they really are. His playful piano solo is a loving homage to the older masters like Ruben Gonzalez. Check out Jean Philippe's amazing drum solo.
"We Want You to Say," by bassist Michel Alibo, is a funk tune with a Creole slant. Jean Philippe's drumming always seems to have a bit of New Orleans second-line going on, reminding us of the huge influence that Caribbean music has had on American music, and vice versa. Mario sounds very Monkish here, as he almost-but-not-quite quotes any number of TSM compositions. Michel cuts loose a swinging bass solo.
Narell's "Baby Steps" alternates between gwoka and biguine. Gwoka, which means big drum in Creole, is the traditional music - drums, vocals and dance - of Guadeloupe; and, as you can easily hear, biguine has much of its origins in the gwoka rhythms. Guest artist Magic Malik, an Afro-Caribbean flutist, plays, sings and sounds like a whole forest. Fanfant holds it all together, confidently navigating the group through a myriad of rhythmic changes.
"Jou La Pli" is another Alibo composition - most of it in 5/4 with slightly mysterious vocals (all multi-tracked by Michel) floating in mid-air. Mario plays Fender Rhodes. It's a complex piece of music to play, but Sakesho makes it sound easy and it's a joy to listen to.
"Cha-Cha Ou Inmin Mwen" is a Mario Canonge original, recorded on one of the pianist's own CDs. Narell begged Mario to play it with him as a duet. "I love the sound and feel we got between the instruments," says Narell. "It might be the nicest blend I've ever recorded between the pan and piano."
"Izo's Mood" is named for Narell's son, Isaac, who played the melodies on the sax for him while he was writing it. After Narell's pan solo, Canonge slips in quietly, but quickly heats up and literally tears it up to close the record.
We Want You to Say… represents a critical locus in Sakesho's development. "It really reflects our experiences playing live over the last few years," notes Narell. "This is a blowing record. It's got more of the feel of a live concert than before, and we're taking more chances."
This is a great disk to throw on to cool out the mood, but at the same time the complex compositions, sophisticated arrangements and masterful performances reward close listening; you'll hear new details each time. It's all about the groove...and the writing...and the blowing.