As an academic, Dr. Pascal Bokar has made it a specialty to study the connections between African music and jazz. As an educator, he has put that study to work teaching jazz and world music at the University of San Francisco. As an artist, he has integrated his ideas into his performance. And as a guitarist, he has developed those connections into a completely original style.
All Bokar’s passions are on display on his February release, Guitar Balafonics. “As a musician,” he says in the album liner notes, “I have tried to synthesize the convergence of African esthetics and African-American influences and traditions into this music we call Jazz.” Balafon, he explains is a term from Mali meaning “make the wood speak.” It refers to an instrument something like the marimba. Bokar uses his guitar to create a sound that echoes the balafon combined with the lute-like ngoni.
It is a percussive guitar sound clearly illustrated right from the start in the album’s first track, the Lester Young classic, “Lester Leaps In.” Paired with the fluid flute sound of Art Maxwell, it is a dynamic new treatment of the familiar Pres piece. Not only is it something new though, it, like most all the songs in this 10-tune set, is a joy to hear.
While Bokar does include two original pieces, “Segou on the Djoliba” and “Song for Dizzy,” as well as his own arrangement of the traditional “Massani Cisse,” the bulk of the album follows the lead of the opening number, synthesizing, to use Bokar’s term, familiar jazz classics with African esthetics. It is a synthesis that works. It may be more out front on some tracks than others, but it is always there around the edges. A tune like “Have You Met Miss Jones” emphasizes the jazz; “Song for my Father” emphasizes the African rhythm.
Along with Maxwell, Bokar’s ensemble includes Aaron Germain on bass, Eric Tillman on piano, Leon Joyce on drums, and percussionist El Hadj Mbor Faye. Guest artists include Daria Niles, who joins Bokar in a vocal duet on Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” and guitarist Eddie Duran, flautist Madaline Duran, and percussionist Cheikh Tayirou Mbaye, who joins in on “Bag’s Groove” and “Segou on the Djoliba.”
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