Album Reviews

JuJu – In Trance

(Real World) UK release date: 13 June 2011

The cross-cultural meeting of minds between British guitarist Justin Adams and Gambian singer and ritti player Juldeh Camara has been taken to a new level by this breathtaking, exciting album. Teaming up with a new rhythm section and recording in Peter Gabriel‘s Real World studio, the group have crafted a hybrid music with vision and energy in abundance. There are some very transparent influences, but the band make no attempt to hide them. Adams’ guitar playing is spiky and riff-based, clearly inspired by Jimi Hendrix. In terms of fusing western rock with African rhythm and song, Tinariwen are another obvious reference point.

Yet there is also something else going on here. Perhaps the key to this distinctive vibe is the new rhythm section. Bass player Billy Fuller has played with Beak, the side project formed by Portishead‘s Geoff Barrow, as well as being part of Robert Plant’s Strange Sensation, in which Justin Adams also appeared. Drummer Dave Smith is no stranger to international collaborations. His London-based jazz ensemble Outhouse worked with a group of Gambian percussionists on the Outhouse Ruhabi project. Smith, an outstanding drummer, is pivotal to the success of this project. He infuses the music with adventurous, risky grooves. His playing is fractured and engaging on Waide Nayde and appropriately polyrhythmic on the mesmerising Djanfa Moja. It is on an advanced rhythmic level that In Trance most succeeds.

The rhythm section provides the ideal support for Adams and Camara to explore their own respective musical paths. Sometimes these journeys are very lengthy indeed, and three of this superb album’s highlights come close to fifteen minutes in length. Djanfa Mofa is remarkable, Adams coaxing all sorts of threatening sounds from his guitar whilst Camara aims for something transcendental through his subtly shifting ritti patterns. Perhaps best of all is the engrossing, all-surrounding murk of Deep Sahara, a piece of music compelling through its defiant sense of economy and atmosphere.

The shorter tracks inevitably feel more concentrated and focused. Jojambo slightly resembles War‘s Four Cornered Room from the classic World Is A Ghetto album (one of the biggest selling albums of its time but now unjustly neglected). That band’s global melting pot of influences, ideals and sounds also seems like a pertinent reference point. Camara is at his most insistent and incisive on this track, his performance completely authoritative and captivating. The closing Halanam builds slowly, eventually expanding into a propulsive, dancefloor-friendly rhythm. On Nightwalk, Adams is at his most Hendrix-esque, with plenty of wah and aggressive riffing. As an opener, it risks being misleadingly conventional, were it not for Dave Smith’s wonderfully angular accompaniment.

This is a brilliantly ambitious, exploratory recording that captures the pure, powerful vibe of a great ensemble. It is the work of musicians with individual outlooks who remain open-minded to diversity and new sounds. When musicians place themselves in new contexts and take risks, the sense of empathy and collective adventure is often even stronger.

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JuJu – In Trance