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Although not as well known in the United States as they are in parts of Western Europe, Fra Fra Sound is a Dutch jazz institution and has been active in the Netherlands since the early '80s. Fra Fra has also recorded as the Fra Fra Big Band, which is essentially Fra Fra Sound with more musicians and an expanded, more elaborate lineup. But whether they're calling themselves Fra Fra Sound or the Fra Fra Big Band, the Amsterdam-based outfit has a reputation for being adventurous, unpredictable, and risk-taking. Fra Fra's specialty is a blend of jazz and world music — especially African, Caribbean, and Latin music. And when it comes to jazz influences, the band is all over the place. They've been influenced by hard bop; some of their arrangements recall Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers' classic Blue Note recordings of the '50s and '60s. But post-bop, modal jazz, fusion and jazz-funk have affected them as well; Fra Fra also brings to mind everyone from John Coltrane, Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, and Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand), to Weather Report, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, and Spyro Gyra. Because of the Caribbean influences, Sonny Rollins (who is famous for combining hard bop and calypso) is another obvious comparison. And whatever type of jazz they're being influenced by — be it hard bop, modal post-bop, fusion or soul-jazz — Fra Fra Sound and the Fra Fra Big Band always bring some type of world music influence to their albums (many of which have been easier to find in Western Europe than in North America).
Fra Fra Sound was founded by bassist/producer Vincent Henar in Amsterdam in 1980, and he has been their leader ever since. Henar got the name Fra Fra from the Surinamese language, which is spoken in the South American country of Suriname (formerly known as Dutch Guyana). The term has different meanings in that language; it can refer to a hybrid (which is exactly what Fra Fra Sound's music has been), or it can mean strange, mysterious, unorthodox, or unusual. Along the way, Fra Fra Sound has had different lineups; in 2003, Henar was leading a seven-person lineup that also included Michael Simon on trumpet and flugelhorn, Efraim Trujillo on tenor sax, Andro Biswane on guitar, Robin VanGeerke on piano, Guno Kramer on drums, and Calo Ulrichi Hoop on percussion. Fra Fra started recording in the '80s; their first album, Panja Gazz + 4, came out in the Netherlands in 1987, and they went on to put out Third Life Stream in 1990, Kalinha's Serenade in 1993, Worship Mother Earth in 1994, Global Village Residents in 1996, Kaseko Revisited: Kotabra in 1997, Mali Jazz in 1999, and Kultiplex in 2003 (the year that marked the band's 23rd anniversary). All of those albums were Fra Fra Sound projects; their releases as the larger Fra Fra Big Band have included A Tan So in 1993 and Maspoti Makandra in 1997.