Xhosa Cole: Ibeji

The BBC's 2018 Young Jazz Musician mixes sax and drum duets with sometimes lengthy verbal statements, the music usually winning through

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Birmingham saxophonist Xhosa Cole’s second album is an innovative affair, a series of saxophone and drums duets with seven eminent percussionists of African descent interspersed with personal statements about the meaning of jazz and the importance of rhythm. “Ibeji” is the Yoruba orisha or spirit word for “twins”, and through its differing duets, this album explores the themes of duality, identity, brotherhood and the diverse expressions of African traditions and music.

The duo format is important, for as Mark Sanders remarks, “When I am playing it’s like doing a duo, I always say a duo with yourself.” Adriano Adewale Itaúna stresses that “for life to exist, we need rhythm”. For it is the many varieties of rhythm that drive this album, from Itaúna’s Afro-Brazilian chattering drums to Lekan Babalolá’s Clave or West African music and Jason Brown’s tumultuous free drumming, all bringing out the best in an increasingly confident and inspired Xhosa Cole, who contributions are often almost vocal in their personal intensity.

However, the format of sometimes lengthy personal contributions interspersed with instrumental duets does make the whole album come across rather like a film soundtrack, without the visuals. But when the well-intentioned statements stop, and the instruments take over, notably on Andy’s Shuffle and Native Tongues (featuring Jason Brown at his most inspired), on the spacious and haunting Our Search For (with Mark Sanders), on the electronically enhanced Double Displacement (with the Africana drummer Corey Mwamba) and above all on the dance-driven All Roads (with Xhosa’s brother Azizi), the album is transformed.

But what is it transformed into? A sampler of world rhythms, a set of inspired duets, a drumming tutorial, a personal manifesto for Xhosa Cole? I’m not sure. This is a brave album to release, but not always an easy one to listen to. But who ever said jazz should be easy?

Discography
Doo-shima; C–L–A–V–E; Andy’s Shuffle; Jazz Is About; Hear The; Dance Of Ancestra; Masks–Rituals–Ancestors; Our Search For; Mark Skit #1; IG–Live 20/04/21: Native Tongues; CDC; Beat–9.Wav; Double Displacement; Mark Skit #2; All Roads; AAC; Alhamdullah; Ibeji (74.44)
Cole (ts) plus, individually: Ian Parmel, Lekan Babalolá, Jason Brown, Adriano Adewale Itaúna, Mark Sanders, Corey Mwamba, Azizi Cole (d). Birmingham, 2021–22.
Stoney Lane Records SLR1978