Afro jazz with a side order reggae has been on the front burner among younger listeners for a few years now, with UK groups like Nubiyan Twist and Ezra Collective playing to club and festival crowds that want to thrill to the sound of a horn solo as well as have a dance.
Those early movers have shone the way for a second wave of exciting young bands like Waaju, who are putting their own stamp on this infectious jazz variant by bringing in yet more worldy influences.
Waaju’s main influences are Malian (the group’s name actually means “to urge, or inspire”) but they also take cues from Nigerian and Moroccan rhythms as well as from further afield, including Latin America and Cuba.
Despite that multi-kulti mix of colours in the sound palette, Waaju have retained their British jazz identity by allowing the soloists to express themselves. Tenor horn player Sam Rapley is a clear toned, unhurried stylist who savours the notes rather than punching them out, afrobeat style.
Excellent electric guitarist Tal Janes’ solos soar high and bright in the mix, sometimes using distorting effects to erect an improvised soundscape behind the quintet.
Untypically for this area, Waaju’s rhythm section doesn’t double down on the bass frequencies. Instead, drummer (and leader) Ben Browne, alongside bassist Joe Downard and percussionist Ernesto Marichales, play in the same space as the soloists.
It’s a detailed approach to groove-based music that makes Grown an album that rewards repeated listening – rather than saving it for that big post lockdown party you’ve been planning. Though it would work for that as well…
Hear/buy Waaju: Grown at https://olindorecords.bandcamp.com/album/grown
Moleman; Listening Glasses; Rollando; Time’s Got A Hold; Wassoulu; Grown (40.13)
Ben Brown (d); Tal Janes (g); Sam Rapley (ts); Joe Downard (b); Ernesto Marichales (pc). UK, c. 2020.
Olindo Records ORLP005