Let’s get one thing out in the open right from the start – I’m not a jazz fan. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I dislike jazz per se more that I’ve never felt drawn to it. I’ve listened to a few rock artists who’ve dabbled in it (Cold Chisel, Billy Joel etc.) but unlike country or blues I’ve never felt the urge to explore further.
So what brought me to Tribaljazz? The Doors connection is the simple answer. I’ve been a Doors fan for years and have listened to several of the band members’ solo projects, from Ray Manzarek’s self-indulgent The Golden Scarab to Robbie Krieger and Friends technically brilliant but uninspired album. I’ve always hoped to find some of the magic of the Doors recordings but I’ve always been disappointed. The Doors connection on this album is twofold, first Doors drummer John Densmore is the driving forces behind the band and secondly… well we’ll save that second connection for a little later.
Of the Doors members I’ve always had Densmore down as the weakest link, so it’s with some surprise that I say this is by far the most enjoyable solo project I’ve heard from any of the surviving band members. It’s often the drummer that gets overlooked in a band and that seems to have been the case with Densmore, here he’s much more in the driving seat with much of the album built on his solid rhythms, the skeleton that the other musicians add flesh to.
Densmore’s partner in crime is Art Ellis who not only provides some emotive flute and Soprano/Alto Sax playing but also wrote the bulk of the songs and co-produced the album with the drummer. The album is a blend of traditional jazz with world music as evidenced by the Cuban rhythms on "La Tormenta" or the African inspired sound of "Orange Midnight".
On the track "Vegetable Wizard" it’s more than just the French vocal of Marcel Adjibi that evokes images of smoky bars is Paris. In fact this is what much of the enjoyment of this album comes from, allowing the music to transport you to exotic locals.
Desperate Housewives star Alfre Woodard provides spoken vocals on "The First Time (I Heard Coltrane)", celebrating the influence of the legendary musician John Coltrane. This time it’s not just space we’re transported through but time as well. It may be Alfre providing the voice but it’s clear the words are describing events from Ellis past.
Now for that other Doors connection, a cover version of "Riders on the Storm" that uses a whispered Jim Morrison backing track from the original Doors recordings. I think this is a mistake on Densmore’s part as the album and band are strong enough to stand on there own without having to rely on the past glories of Morrison and the Doors. Having said that, as an instrumental piece the song works extremely well.
The infectious Violet Love is one of the albums stand out tracks, and it comes in three varieties, an instrumental, a vocal version featuring Michael Franti and a bonus version not listed on the sleeve that adds (I think) the albums other vocalists Marcel Adjibi and Alfre Woodard to the mix. Frant’s 9/11 inspired stream of conscience lyrics provide a vocal outlet for the music’s primal emotions and guarantee the song stays with you long after the albums final notes.
Of course Tribal jazz is more than just Densmore and Ellis. Quinn Johnson makes his mark on the piano and African drummers Marcel Adjibi and Azziz Faye help put the tribal in Tribaljazz. In fact it’s clear everyone involved is having a ball and hopefully this will just be a starting point for the band.
This album will have an appeal for both traditional jazz lovers and those like myself who’ve previously neglected the art form. In fact I may have to look into this jazz thing a little closer. Maybe I’ll start with Mr Coltrane…