Album Reviews

Osunlade – Aquarian Moon

(BBE) UK release date: 12 June 2006

Its not often the opportunity to hear the work of a bona-fide Babalawo priest arises, so the moment should be savoured. Then again, the deep house tones and soft afro-bossa pulses of St. Louis’ Osunlade crop up in the most surprising places.

For the first time since Soul Jazz’s Paradigm in 2001, Osunlade’s surprisingly utilitarian touch is credited to himself only. An astonishingly well-connected CV already boasts of commissions from such variant sources as Ms Dynamite, Jazzy Jeff and Radiohead but Aquarian Moon shows that home is where his art is.

Only now, home is the Greek isle of Santorini, one of the furthest outcrops of the Cyclades, and rumoured to be near the site of long-lost Atlantis. Though never claiming to posses webbed feet, Aquarian Moon is Osunlade’s twelve-day meditation on the island the locals call Thira.

For those of us involuntary sniffing petrochemicals in the daily bookends of rush hour, the artful amplitude of Aquarian Moon’s sea-breeze ripples could easily be mistaken for the soporific. And with respect to the ordained one’s Ifa faith, the title track’s declaration of “On the third-day of the Aquarian Moon / I found my soul” nurtures slim hope of the accentuation moving beyond the domain of those two dread imps, Mumbo and Jumbo.

But though he may have turned his back on corporate expense accounts to launch his own Yoruba label, Osunlade has enough nous not to let private beliefs colour public product. Not only that, but he’s managed to pull off the rare trick of a deep house album that rewards repeated listening.

Subtle changes of pitch betray Osunlade’s formidable arranging skills. Eloquently muted piano chords and horns as salutary as a world cup goal adorn the buoyant Casablanca Soul, the record Global Connection never quite made. In common with Casablanca Soul, its the tracks that break from the reverie of contemplation that set Aquarian Moon apart from other offshoots of balearic beatification.

The one-take musk of Oia In Winter contains some of the latin touches in which Osunlade first made his name, but its elegantly tensile propulsion has shades of Marvin Gaye‘s Trouble Man soundtrack. Similarly genre-unspecific, Circles’ mixture of post-bop percussion and sequenced strings indicate time spent matching sound to movement.

Rather than evoking a bug-eyed caffeine fix, The Day We Met For Coffee has an arabic sway that suggests Turkey is just a headwind away. Just don’t tell the locals.

Music For The Gods has more than a nod to Osunlade’s principal inspiration, – beyond West African deities that is – namely Prince Rogers Nelson. With francophile whispers entreating all to ecoute la musique, its exquisitely aligned twists and turns are in greater thrall to moons of the cherry variety, rather than the aquarian.

At times, particularly with Music For The Gods and Fingerblood, its hard to believe that the ex-Symbol’s great arranger Clare Fischer hasn’t provided charts just for the occasion.

The electro-latino SokinSikartep skirts around the further edges of deep house to no great effect, and Aquarian Moon threatens to wear out the welcome mat rather quickly for the records true opening gambit.

But these are minor quibbles. If wrestling with catamarans and the factor 15 gets too much, Aquarian Moon will chase away those Easyjet blues.

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