Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mehdi Nabti : ''Afro-Berber Continuum'' for Very Hip Jazz

Alto sax player and composer Mehdi Nabti (whose 2015 album on F-IRE label in London UK, Multiple Worlds, is killer) publishes on Bandcamp Hybridations & Transformations. Here the french-canadian altoist is joined by canadian bassist Nicolas Lafortune and congolese drummer/singer Lionel Kizaba, for a trio ‘’Pulsar 3’’ on eleven tracks with the addition of re-recording vocals and sax. 

Mehdi Nabti is from Paris (France) from Kabyle (Algeria) ancestry and he lives in Montreal (Canada) since 2009. Mehdi Nabti holds a PhD and a post-PhD in Social Anthropology. Specialist in contemporary jazz and north African trance music, he was a student of some of the biggest names in North African music and Jazz with François Jeanneau, Steve Coleman, Andy Emler, Phillipe Sellam, Abderrahim Amarani Marrakchi, Haj Azzedine Bettahi, Haj Said Berrada. Nabti is the author of numerous academic writings on ritual and trance music of Maghreb published in North Africa and France, he created and directed from 2004 to 2008 a French-Moroccan orchestra bringing together jazz and Sufi musicians : Aissawaniyya. He performed in various festivals in Europe, North Africa, North America and records albums of his musical projects like Nass Lounassa, Pulsar or NeoDuo.

This album represents his most elaborate synthesis of his interest in sufi trance rituals, ancient worlds, berber history and music, afro languages, grooves, andalusian scales and geomancy principles. Some might recognize the title Hybridations & Transformations as a thesis subject, but the saxophonist exploring a methodology explained in the Liner Notes : the ‘’Afro-berber continuum’’. This term means, firstly, the contemporary use of rhythms, melodic modes from the ancient and medieval Berbers and sub-Saharan traditions, and, secondly, a musical evocation of the forgotten and unknown history of this region (historical figures, monuments, geographical areas). This hybridation can, Mehdi Nabti wrote, help to overcome the current retromania and made positive transformation of the structures and musical discourse. Nabti uses the modern improvised musical vocabulary, not an outdated aesthetic "old school’’ or ‘’folklore".  This explains the slightly different, powerful feel of these pieces : the superb “Polypulse” builds from african double-pulse concept, or ‘’MT’’, from an old north-african sufi song, where Nabti shows what kind of sax player he is, full of life and sharp mind with superb sound. 

The band is tight and plays right in the pocket. The grooves that Lafortune and Kizaba deal out on “MS”, ‘’Tiedos vs La javanaise’’ might seem a turn away from the intricate rhythmic constructions of some of the other like ‘’Uchronie’’. But the music simply articulates differently, with complexity, pattern shifts, all still abounding, just speaking in a slightly different language. The sound and rhythmic connection between the three musicians are crucial to the lightness this dense music achieves. 

The music is brimming with energy, it’s also quite subtle which is often hyper-groovy, filled with small details and fascinating moroccan bass lines and drumming elements. Kizaba and Lafortune are fabulous in realizing this balance between sheer bounce and reserve, and there solos parts and the lingala songs are awesome. Listening to Lafortune solo deeply in the weave of “Afro Berber” or Kizaba in the deep interlocking grooves of “Cimmeriens” the blend of complexity and grooving momentum is pretty irresistible. The addition of re-recording vocals gives tunes to a more accessible feel in their cross-cutting rhythms ; and on “Juba II”, ‘’Tanit’’ and “Massinissa” Nabti digs into the berber history and sounds like himself.  

Hybridations & Transformations moves briskly through these ‘’afro-berber continuum’’, but usually quite rich pieces. And the group explores a wide range of feels, from the opening, neo-sufi “Lounassa vs Choucho” until the end, that’s organic as hell, and with Nabti playing at his expressive alto sax lines, it’s hard to deny that Pulsar 3 is making very hip jazz for our times.

Saburo K, Saitama, Japan. 

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