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Album Review

This must surely be one of the most unusual items in Hank Jones' catalog. Few people would probably associate Jones — one of the finest pianists that jazz has ever known, and a man who has played with everyone from Charlie Parker to Tony Williams — with contemporary Afro-pop; yet this album is an infectiously grooving example of just that, featuring the remarkably versatile pianist alongside a stellar cast of musicians from the West African nation of Mali. At first glance, the Malian pop music that is featured on this cross-cultural outing would seem to be light-years from the kind of harmonically sophisticated jazz that Jones has played throughout most of his long and distinguished career. The chord changes that ordinarily undergird Jones' elegantly constructed solos are conspicuously absent from Malian music, which derives much of its unique flavor from the complex rhythmic interplay between electric guitars, keyboards, and traditional African instruments. Nonetheless, Jones plays this material as if he were born to it. His solos, while brief, beautifully straddle the line between his own personal style and the equally distinctive sound of his Malian bandmates; and his lines mesh perfectly with the mesmerizing rhythmic accompaniment provided by the rest of the ensemble. And quite an ensemble it is; some of the biggest names in Malian pop are featured on this album under the direction of leader Cheick-Tidiane Seck, and traditional instruments like the n'goni lute and balafon xylophone are given plenty of solo space. In addition, every track features a traditional Malian praise-song delivered by a powerful lead vocalist and a full complement of backup singers. An unlikely partnership, perhaps, but one that yields extraordinary results.


Born: 31 July 1918 in Vicksburg, MS

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

The oldest of the Jones brothers, Hank Jones has been a supreme accompanist and underrated soloist. He's among the most accomplished sight readers in jazz, and his flexibility and sensitive style have kept him extremely busy cutting sessions and working in various groups and styles ranging from swing to bebop. He's worked with vocalists, played in big bands and done many solo, trio, and combo dates. Born in 1918 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Jones moved with his family to the Detroit area while still...
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