|Photo: Anna Yatskevich
|Photo: Marek Lasarki
The title track, a hymn composed by Alexander Johnson (1791-1832) in 1816, closes the album. The musicians respect the original melody but also open it up to interpretation. Why not? That's what they do all throughout "Devotion". Dave Douglas, Uri Caine, and Andrew Cyrille are master musicians and communicators. We are the beneficiaries of their hard work, interactions, and, yes, devotion.
For more information, go to greenleafmusic.com.
Here's one of the delightful tracks:
Kono also has a quintet to play his original music. An earlier version of the group (guitarist Pete McCann, pianist Henry Hey, bassist John Hébert, and drummer John Hollenbeck) is featured on Kono's 2011 debut recording "Crossing" (1918 Records), an album that received great praise (including my review - click here) not just for the musicianship but also for quality of the compositions. There are several overtly political songs but also pieces dedicated to family and the many places Kono had visited as a child and as a young adult.
Iron Eyes Cody to the extinction of many species including the dodo and the passenger pigeon plus deforestation. The song titles and explanations take a somber approach to the present as well as the possibilities of a future while the music roars, shimmers, shudders, dances, and moves inward. Pieces such as "Last Flight of the Dodo" and "River of Fire" have a tremendous urgency thanks to the insistent percussion and the powerful bass lines. "River..." has a stunning guitar solo plus Kono's bass clarinet-through-an-amplifier sound that emulates Jimi Hendrix.
2 levels in the atmosphere....in 1958! Te song would be out of place on a Blue Note Records album from the mid-1960s i.e. Wayne Shorter or Herbie Hancock. Kono's powerful tenor leads the way and takes in a free-for-all with the band (especially McCann and Hey) near the close of the piece. Meanwhile, the short "Spirit Animal" pieces are dedicated to the marmot, the condor, leviathan (whale), and beluga - three of the four are played on English Horn (double-reed woodwind) with "Leviathan" on bass clarinet.
The album closes with hope in the form of "Renewal." McCann's acoustic guitar supports Hey's piano work with Kono playing the theme on flute. At the close of the piece, one hears a tape of the leader's daughter Sami sings the simple melody that served as the impetus for the composition.
Yes, the song titles carry a power of their own. But, even without knowing the inspiration for each song, "Don't Blink" is filled with attractive melodies, impressive solos, fine interaction, and a mature yet adventurous attitude of on the part of Ben Kono and the ensemble. There are many of us who believe that the half-steps forward and full steps backward taken by the last two Presidential administrations (with the support of the Senate and the House of Representatives) have not come close to solving the issues inherent in the song titles. But, listener, keep an open mind when approaching this album - the rewards are many.
For more information, go to dontblinkmusic.org. If you purchase the physical through Ben Kono's Bandcamp page - benkono.bandcamp.com - 50% of purchase price will be donated to Riverkeeper.org and the Sierra Club.
Here's a track to pique your interest:
|Photo: John Rogers
For even more information, go to www.mattmitchell.us.