TOPOGRAPHIES OF THE DARK
Sculptural paintings by Virginia Ryan, created in Accra, Ghana
Sound improvisations by the Accra Trane Station Trio of Nii Noi Nortey, Nii Otoo Annan, and Steven Feld, plus Alex Coke and Jefferson Voorhees
Recorded in Santa Fe, New Mexico on the occasion of Accra Trane Station’s first visit from Ghana to the U.S., Topographies of the Dark is a musical exploration in dialogue with sculptural paintings made in Accra by visual artist Virginia Ryan. Her textured assemblages in overlaying densities of
black are featured in the accompanying booklet.
Ryan’s Topographies of the Dark paintings are created from recycled flip-flops that washed up on Accra’s beaches. Like the water rolling in and out along the Black Atlantic coast, these once-worn shoes embody histories of movement and passage, crossings close and far. The Topographies of the Dark CD similarly tells tales of musical crossings that connect Africa, Europe, and America in the diasporic grooves of jazz improvisation.
Accra Trane Station is Nii Noi Nortey and Nii Otoo Annan. Nortey is inventor of the afrifones, African winds with saxophone mouthpieces, and Annan plays the APK, or African percussion kit, a battery of African bells and drums together with jazz cymbals. Since 2005 Nortey and Annan have been working with musician and anthropologist Steven Feld, who joins the group on ashiwa, the West African rhythm box bass. As a trio they have recorded two previous Voxlox Cds, the 2006 Meditations for John Coltrane, a tribute to the 40th anniversary of Coltrane’s Meditations, and 2007 Another Blue Train, marking the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence and Coltrane’s Blue Train.
When Accra Trane Station came to New Mexico in August 2007, Feld proposed a recording collaboration with two of his oldest musical associates, Alex Coke and Jefferson Voorhees. Topographies of the Dark is the record of this conversation.
Sax and flute improviser Alex Coke, based in Austin and Amsterdam, has performed and recorded with the Willem Breuker Kollektief, Worthy Constituents, and Creative Opportunity Orchestra. He and Feld previously played together in Leadbelly Legacy Band and Live Action Brass Band.
Drummer Jefferson Voorhees studied West African percussion with C.K. Ladzekpo and became a mainstay in the bay area World Beat movement, playing with numerous African and Afro-Caribbean bands. He and Feld previously worked together in the Tom Guralnick Trio, Bonefied, and Out of Context.
Recorded live in single takes with no overdubs, Topographies of the Dark, is comprised of 7 tracks, each featuring unique combinations of Nortey and Coke’s winds punctuated by Annan’s APK, Voorhees’ drums, and Feld’s rhythm box bass, and additionally by Nortey and Annan’s string and xylophone work.
The Luminous Dark and Suspended Gaze are deeply textural pieces, meditative and out of fixed meter. On Mood Duke, the haunting mix of Nortey’s afrifone and Coke’s bass flute in Ghanaian kpele rhythm evokes the West African spiritual and the Mood Indigo of Duke Ellington. Strings to the Sahel is a desert rock groove combining bowed and plucked Ghanaian strings with the swirling wind of Coke’s flute. The tone turns hot and fast on Black Heat, where Nortey’s afrifone and Coke’s soprano work move across the terrain of avant-garde saxophone styles from Albert Ayler to Ornette Coleman. On Bridges and Planks, Nortey and Annan both show off their extraordinary multiple in-and-out-of-meter xylophone and marimba skills. The set concludes with Ruffles, a spirited romp in an Afro-beat percussion groove.
Nii Noi Nortey plays his inventions, the afrifones, African winds with saxophone mouthpieces, plus gyili wood and metal xylophones; molo two-string lute, gonje one-string fiddle.
Nii Otoo Annan plays APK, the African Percussion Kit of African drums and bells and xylophone with jazz cymbals, plus marimba, and molo two-string lute.
Steven Feld plays ashiwa rhythm box bass.
Alex Coke plays flute, bass flute, and soprano saxophone.
Jefferson Voorhees plays trap percussion set.
1. The Luminous Dark 5:12
NNN; afrifone; AC: soprano sax; NOA: APK; JV: traps; SF: box
2. Mood Duke (Kpele lala) 7:06
NNN: afrifone; AC: bass flute; NOA: APK; JV: traps; SF: box
3. Strings to the Sahel 6:09
NNN: gonje; NOA: molo; AC: flute; JV: traps; SF: box
4. Black Heat 8:57
NNN: afrifone, gonje; AC: soprano sax; NOA: APK; JV: traps; SF: box
5. Bridges and Planks 4:44
NNN: gyili; NOA: marimba; AC: piccolo; JV: traps; SF: box
6. Suspended Gaze 5:42
NNN: gyili, molo; AC: bass flute; NOA: APK, gyili; JV: traps; SF: box
7. Ruffles 7:11
NNN: gyili; AC: flute; NOA: APK; JV: traps; SF: box