Whatever magic Bakithi Kumalo made with Paul Simon on Simon's Graceland seems lost here on Transmigration. Bakithi is a fine bass player and the musicians he has brought together are fine studio musicians too, but this CD lets one's mind wander and not along with the music. Too much like Muzak than fusion jazz, if that's what it was supposed to be.
South African-born Kumalo is a fine bassist, like I said, but for a guy who played on the Zululand Tour you would think that he would try to blend the jazz coming out of South Africa with the jazz coming out of Europe, North America or South America. That doesn't happen here, and you would think with a title like Transmigration it would be what this disk was all about. Once again, I was wrong.
The first track "Twilight Fire" sounds more like that elevator song you got stuck in your head on the way to see your dentist. The bass bounces through fine as Bakithi tickles the cords and thumps around for a bit; the rest is programmed sounds that run through the piano and drum beats. At least on the second track, "Step by Step", he uses a real sax and guitar. The bass is played at some of its higher notes, making you wonder if it is being used at all. Morris Goldberg plays a mean sax, as Kumalo's bass plays opposite. After a little dueling for a few cords, the bass line drops to its normal pitch and Kumalo adds in the guitar riffs later.
The whole CD is like this with Bakithi playing most of the instruments and using programming for other parts. Chris Pati and Bill Smith who plays piano on “Trio”, which I liked, play certain pieces such as drums on “Seems Like Old Times” and “Make Me Smile.” Smith's piano playing comes in as the straight man at first, then playfully jumbles around with the keys for a bit before falling back into the groove. With Damon Duewhite on drums, Bakithi captures the sound of jazz from few decades ago, when Miles, the Duke, the Bird, Thelonious, and all the others were pushing the music to outer reaches.
"Your Point Being?" is the longest jam on the CD, coming in at ten minutes and thirty seconds. It’s a ripping jam that moves quickly with Pati on keyboards and percussion, Goldberg on sax, and Kumalo thumping his bass once again. Like the space shuttle revving its engines, the jam never really takes off.
On "Africa", the final cut, Kumalo plays all the instruments from bass to wood flute and even the Djembe (I honestly have no idea what that is….sorry, babies, too stoned in music appreciation that day). I have to say "Africa" is the only other track I liked on this disk and has almost nothing to do with fusion, or progressive jazz; it just has some Africa beats and instruments jamming together while Bakithi vocalizes his tribal roots.
Playing all the instruments Kumalo plays is an accomplishment in itself, and for that he is a master musician. Transmigration has well-played music technically, but it has no soul, no spirit that keeps you listening and wanting to hear more. As background music for your lobby or reception desk area, you will get no complaints from your clients, but put it on at a party or for a drive in your car and along the way someone will fall asleep at the wheel.
Written by Fumo Verde