Carsten Daerr - piano, organ, fender rhodes, melodica
Hamid Drake - drums
Manu Codija - guitar
Christophe Monniot - alto, baritone and sopraniono saxophone
Michael Schiefel - voice, electronics
Matyas Szandai - double bass
Viktor Toth - alto saxophone
BMC (Budapest Music Center) Records 2011
How does Bob Marley's music fit with jazz? I don't really know, yet it is not surprising to see Hamid Drake involved in such a project. He has played reggae music over the years and his physical presence (dreadlocks and all) suggests strongly an affinity for rasta culture and the sunny music of Jamaica. An affinity which he shares, as this album proves, with other jazz musicians.
The Cool Runnings Orchestra (do you remember the movie?) is trully and international endeavour - two Frenchmen, two Berliners, one American and a pair of Hungarians gathered under the colours of the Jamaican flag. "Tribute to Marley" presents six Marley's songs (one of them performed twice) and two originals written in the style (one by Toth and one by Daerr).
Now the first surprise is over (a jazz band covering Marley?) there's the second surprise - the way they do it. Cool Runnings Orchestra versions of well known reggae songs are indirect, tricky, challenging at times. While you can recognize the melody, the swaying reggae pulsations appear only briefly, never too obvious. There are eerie, pensieve, trans-hypnotic elements that you wouldn't exactly expect. There's a twist to each song. Like the modified modes of the main riff in the "Is This Love", the lyrical, touching take on the "Could You Be Loved" (see the video below). The harmonic edge given by sharp post-bop piano solos. The mysterious touch of echoing electronically altered voice. Hypnotic "Natural Mystic" and "Jammin'". Sweet and warm "No Woman No Cry" that slides gently, smooth. "Redemption Song" that changes back and forth between soulfully swaying rhythm and mysteriously dark tones of ensemble improvisation. Ironically enough the most clearly reggae tracks are the ones written by the band ("Rastaman Frustration" with a vivid dub section and the joyfull and light "Nap-Nap". And there's another "unplugged" version of "Is This Love" that closes the album - performed just with a vocal backed by baritone and alto saxophones creating a honking r'n'b like melodic base (yet another surprise, like a bonus track with a completely different band).
So while I'm trying to solve unnecessary questions (like : is this too fusion? too reggae? too little reggae? too far-fetched?) this music keeps emanating passion, love, optimism and warmth (nonetheless the dark shadings) and I keep pushing the 'play' button listen after listen. Charm of Bob Marley, charm of jazz, charm of music that brings you closer with each take. One Love. An infectious listen.
I featured three tracks from the cd on this playlist.