After trekking across the West African landscape for nearly a decade, soaking up a diverse array of sounds, Paul Schauert (composer, percussionist, and founder of the Sankofa Ensemble) was inspired to combine his passion for jazz with the dense rhythmic and melodic textures he heard across the Atlantic. The group takes its moniker from an African (Akan) notion that means to go back and retrieve from tradition what is good and use it in new ways. Featuring African elements that are at the roots of jazz, the Sankofa Ensemble lives up to its name, re-invigorating this genre to create innovative re-Africanized jazz. Lyrical African melodies, arranged for trumpet and electric guitar, weave between lush string lines, and float over a solid foundation of gritty afro-tinged grooves built by the interlocking threads of an upright bass, piano, and various combinations of percussion.
"Mamady's Mode" begins the album with a dark yet danceable djembe groove; after the guitar "sings" the melody, in true African call-and-response style, the trumpet belts out a exuberant reply. Inspired by the way in which multiple African xylophone parts combine to form a dense and complex texture, "Annual Cycle" features a buoyant triplet feel created by the interlacing guitar and rhodes piano. Subsequently, over a bed of strings echoing with the sounds of an African chorus, the woody tones of the acoustic bass preach a profound sonic sermon on "Sacred Blessing." The 6/8 polyrhythm started in the previous tune becomes more pronounced in "Agbajazz," a clever re-invention of Agbadza, an African traditional social music of the Ewe people of Ghana. Exploring the northern parts of this country, "Dagbamba Dance" combines multiple musics from this region as the interplay of a talking drum and the large booming of a gun-gong (large cylindrical drum slung under the arm), provide a backdrop for vocal style melodies and a collection of jazzy solos. The violin featured on the intro mimics the sound of an African fiddle called the gonge found in northern Ghana and parts of Burkina Faso.
With its strong percussive qualities coupled with virtuosic improv and carefully crafted orchestrations, this album is sure to please jazz fans as well as lovers of world and African music.