From the December 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (who provided me with the review copy) comes my review of a terrific recording by Israeli-born clarinetist Oran Etkin and the marvelous Group Kelenia. African grooves and jazz mix here in a truly fine recording.
Born in Israel where he first heard Louis Armstrong as a youngster, Oran Etkin’s influences are many but it was playing Malian music in New York led him to travel to Mali where he stayed with a family of percussionist Jon Camara where he met and had the opportunity to play with some of the great groits in Mali and when he returned resumed an association with Balla Kouyate (on balaphon) leading to formation of Group Kelenia that also includes Makane Kouyate on calabash and Joe Sanders on bass. Kelenia comes from the Bambara word for love between peoples who are different from each other. On Etkin’s new recording “Kelenia” (Motéma Music), he introduces us to a marvelous meeting of ancient and modern, Jazz and African music, calls to prayer of different traditions for an enchanting experience. Primarily playing clarinet and bass clarinet with occasional tenor, Etkin’s deep woody tone resonates against Balla Kouyate’s dancing balaphon while Makane Kouyate’s calabash adds a gritty texture along with the haunting vocals of Abdoulaye Diabate. Both “Yekete” and the title track illustrate this, with overdubbing allowing Etkin to play off clarinet versus the bass clarinet. “Not a Waltz” is one of several tracks that feature Lionel Loueke’s guitar and John Benitez on bass with Mohamed ‘Joh’ Sidi Camara adding the talking drum. What is fascinating is the constant conversations that take place between the various musicians. Etkin’s tenor adds a honking tinge to “Nama,” as he plays over a vamping accompaniment from Balla Kuoyate. “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” has the ensemble adding a unique touch to the Ellington jazz standard as Etkin’s clarinets set the tone before Balla Kuoyate continues the musical dance with his solo. The music on “Kelenia” will enchant and invigorate the listener with the freshness and vigor of the music here. For more on Oran Etkin, visit www.oranetkin.com/group_kelenia.htm, or www.motema.com/artist/oran-etkin, where you can purchase this. It is available from amazon and iTunes.