Thursday, 23 August 2007

Tony Kofi...

This is another one that promised more than it delivered. Great to take in small bite-sized chunks of, perhaps, a couple of tracks at a time. Taken as a whole though it proved hard work.

CDs potentially offer 80 minutes of playing times, which to my mind has always been a bit of a curse. Too often artists often decide to fill 'em up until there's no more space - never mind the depth, feel the width. I've always believed in the simple truth that less is more, and the classic soul jazz LPs (download here!) rarely breached the 35 minute mark. That tends to work in their favour, because as soon as the music finishes you tend to want to play it again.

Whilst this isn't a bad contemporary take on a classic format, it lacks the appeal of the material that inspires it, and even worse it fails to engage in the same way as the US jam bands such as Stanton Moore's, Medeski Martin & Wood, or Soulive. That said, I stick by my conclusion - catching this group live would be a different proposition...

Future Passed
Specific Jazz (SPEC 004)

The Journey; Suibokuga; Zambia; A Song For Pappa Jack; As We Speak; Blue Pavel; The Eternal Thinker; Jubilation (For Bod); Brotherhood; April The 13th; This Dream Of Mine (For MJ); We Out.

Tony Kofi (as/ss/bs); Anders Olinder (org); Robert Fordjour (d); Byron Wallen (t) (1/3/4); Cameron Pierre (g) (5/8/9/10); Donald Gamble (perc) (3/8).
Recorded January 2005.

Young jazz musicians are increasingly turning to the enduring format of the organ combo as if it were an essential part of their musical development. Both Don Braden (The New Hang) and Joshua Redman (yaya3) have raised the bar in this fertile but somewhat overcrowded field, and talented young British multi reedsman Tony Kofi is the latest to throw his hat into the ring.

Future Passed, the follow up to Kofi’s award winning Monk project, has roots in a gig he played with jazz-hip-hoppers US3 at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in 1994. Appearing on the same bill was Lou Donaldson’s group with Dr. Lonnie Smith, and the impression they made was lasting. The core group is a trio, Swedish ex pat Anders Olinder handling the Hammond and bringing a very raw sound to the ensemble, and drummer Robert Fordjour stoking the fires from the backline.

Long-time collaborator Byron Wallen guests on three pieces, whilst guitarist Cameron Pierre and percussionist Donald Gamble beef up the ensemble on several more. From the opening bars of “The Journey”, a fast boppish piece, Wallen and Kofi impress as a neat tag team, and I wish that they’d appeared together on every track. The smooth simmer of “Suibokuga” lowers the temperature a fraction and showcases Kofi’s bottom-heavy soprano, whilst “Zambia” brings in both Wallen and Gamble and approximates the intensity of Larry Young’s later Blue Notes.

Guitarist Pierre picks cleanly on “As We Speak”, but “Blue Pavel” is the first of several flat spots which dissipate the disc’s overall punch and make it rather too long to be compelling. Kofi generally sounds most convincing on baritone, used on both “The Eternal Thinker” and the very Monk-ish “April the 13th” which are amongst the handful of tracks demanding repeated listening.

I sense that the musicians are dabbling in an area of music that is not their primary focus of interest, and the music often sounds forced where Redman or Braden’s would be relaxed. On the strength of Future Passed I certainly won’t be throwing away my Lonnie Smiths, Charles Earlands or Larry Youngs. That said, I’d love to catch them live in a small club setting.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, July 2006)

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