Pascal Bokar: When Lights Are Low

For over 20 years, Senegalese (now USA-transplanted) guitarist Pascal Bokar has been melding African traditional dance music with jazz. Along the way he has played with such jazz titans as Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Haynes and Donald Byrd. He has been releasing records of his own for over a decade.

Bokar's interesting and pleasing interpretation of the Benny Carter-penned "When Lights Are Low" is an exception among the bebop-inflected standards, permeated with an abundance of African rhythms and occasional vocalese, that comprise Savanna Jazz Club. Bokar is a fine jazz guitarist more than capable of sustaining absorbing straight-ahead or bebop lines that stand up against the quality of the best players. But while the "African-ness" is at a lower ebb than on most of the other cuts, this track retains a distinct and unusual African character thanks to Bokar's unique style of occasionally striking muted strings in a melodic yet percussive manner. It almost sounds as if he is playing the kalimba, an African percussion instrument. He uses this style to great success in establishing the tune's opening theme. According to the liner notes, Bokar calls this style "balafonics." Whatever it is called, it is cool to listen to.

Bailey, Greensill and Williams ably assist Bokar in taking this sing-songy number into an impressive blues realm before returning to the uplifting kalimba-sounding introduction for its coda. A fun time has been had by all.

June 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Oscar Peterson: When Lights Are Low

Traversing the shortest distance between two points, a young musician named Oscar Peterson derived not only inspiration from his idol Nat King Cole, but also the instrumentation and even an instrumentalist from Nat's trademark late-'40s combo. There was, however, one notable difference. When Oscar's original guitarist (Irving Ashby, formerly of the King Cole Trio) was succeeded by Barney Kessel and, a year later, Herb Ellis, Peterson's bands became racially integrated at a time when that was fraught with difficulties, not to mention danger.

In 1957 we find the O.P. Trio live in Chicago, presumably out of danger and indisputably in their prime. Although Oscar often set house-on-fire tempos, the better to show off his blazing technique, he was more appealing—to this listener, at least—when not whizzing by in a turbojet flurry of flash and filigree. Consider as evidence this decaffeinated version of Benny Carter's delightful "When Lights Are Low." The opening is so quiet, we can hear Oscar's shoe-leather metronome beating beneath the melody. Of course, after Ray Brown's witty upward glissando and Ellis's bongo-style punctuation rouse the attentive and appreciative audience, excitable Oscar can't help but fire off enough double-time volleys to impress the impressionable. Soon, fortunately, calm is restored for a relaxed landing right on schedule at O'Hare. How rare is that?

Sidebar: This track's deceptive original album packaging bears explanation. The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Concertgebouw, it was titled. Which is all well and good, except that the Verve LP was recorded entirely at Chicago's Civic Opera House, a long way from Amsterdam. According to urban legend, Verve's front-office secretary then was Miss Louella Litella—you guessed it: Emily's maiden aunt. Told to acquire a cover photo of the Windy City, she ordered instead "a windmill that's pretty." Declining to throw good money after bad, Verve retitled the album and ran the picture. If this account is not strictly true, then, as Emily herself regularly admonished: "Never mind."

February 15, 2008 · 0 comments


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