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Reviews

Orin Meta

George Luke

Femi Temowo
Femitone Records

femi.jpg

Although jazz has been much maligned by church folk historically ('Does jazz put the sin in syncopation?' asked the Women's Home Journal of 1921) it has often been used to express a Christian faith. Duke Ellington's 'Come Sunday' and John Coltrane's Love Supreme album are two classic examples, but it is now seeing a more contemporary boom in the gospel community. The Philadelphian singer Ruth Naomi Floyd has released a string of fine albums marrying the genre with gospel; more recently she's been followed by artists such as the saxophonists Kirk Whalum, Mike Parlett and YoLanda Brown, South African guitarist Jonathan Butler, pianist Barry D - and now the Nigerian-born Brit Femi Temowo.

Some of the most outstanding work to come out of Britain's jazz scene tends to happen when musicians who are children of immigrants - or immigrants themselves - dip into their parents' cultures for inspiration (Courtney Pine's jazz/reggae fusions probably being the most notable example). Guitarist Femi Temowo is the latest jazzman to make such a journey, and the results are nothing short of amazing.

Temowo moved to the UK in the late 80s. He had developed a fascination for the guitar as a teenager, after joining his local church choir. Along the way, he discovered Wes Montgomery, obtained a Jazz Studies degree from Middlesex University, and steadily worked his way to becoming one of Britain's most sought after guitarists. He played on Soweto Kinch's Mercury-nominated Conversations With The Unseen album, and was Amy Winehouse's music director when her debut album Frank was released. It's virtually impossible to go to a jazz gig and not see Femi's face smiling at you from behind his guitar.

About three years ago, he set out to find a deeper connection to his Yoruba roots - not just from a musical perspective, but also investigating Yoruba culture and history. 'What I found was that I needed to devote myself to understanding a very old and established culture,' he recalls. 'Whilst on that journey, I started having musical ideas that burrowed subtly from those roots and inserted themselves firmly into my jazz sensibilities. It was an impulse I couldn't ignore. And so I took the journey and arrived at Orin Meta.'

Much of the magic of Orin Meta (the title means 'three songs' in Yoruba) is down to the band Femi has assembled to flesh out his musical journey. We have Jean Toussaint on saxophones, Grant Windsor on keyboards, Troy Miller on drums, Michael Olatuja on bass and Ayan De First on the talking drum, all in top form. And Cleveland Watkiss's unmistakeable voice really lights up the songs he guests on - especially 'Asiko Aye'. Just as compelling is Xantoné Blacq, who does vocal duties on the title track.

Orin Meta is a fine album that fuses straight-ahead jazz with the sounds of Old Nigeria beautifully. And, from the opening track 'The Storyteller's Psalm', you feel that even the Women's Home Journal might approve. Dave Brubeck, a name that even non-jazzers recognise, once said that 'To me, if you get into that creative part of your mind when you're playing jazz, it's just as religious as when you're writing a sacred service.' Temowo is the proof of that. I'm already looking forward to seeing where his odyssey takes him next.

George Luke