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Reflected in the Other : Jazz and World Music

Jazz was born a cen­tu­ry ago in New Orleans before sprea­ding all over the world and sta­king its claim as the source of the main forms of popu­lar music that emer­ged after the war. Still today, jazz remains “Creole” music at its best, both artis­ti­cal­ly and his­to­ri­cal­ly, and the pri­vi­le­ged vec­tor of the “Poe­tics of Rela­tion” so belo­ved of the Mar­ti­ni­can poet Édouard Glis­sant. Expan­ding its ter­ri­to­ries beyond all mea­sure by mul­ti­plying shif­ting zones of exchange and fric­tion at its bor­ders, where styles and genres inter­mingle to create new hybrids, jazz appears as a pri­vi­lege space where the com­po­site and syn­cre­tic beau­ty of our glo­ba­li­sed huma­ni­ty comes into its own.


Kinships and filiations 

Ope­ning itself up to Afro-Cuban rhythms in the mid-1940s and pro­vi­ding a las­ting influence on the direc­tion of Latin and Carib­bean music in return, throu­ghout its his­to­ry jazz has constant­ly ven­tu­red beyond its idio­ma­tic bor­ders, soa­king up other tra­di­tions in search of both kin­ships of iden­ti­ty (from Cuba to Bra­zil) and more fan­tas­ti­cal filia­tions (Afri­ca in all its states).

Fol­lo­wing the example of pio­neers such as the pia­nist Ran­dy Wes­ton – who exu­be­rant­ly cele­bra­ted the his­to­ri­cal, aes­the­tic and poli­ti­cal links bet­ween Afri­can inde­pen­dence and black Ame­ri­ca com­mit­ted to the civil rights struggle in 1960, with “Uhu­ru Afri­ka” – many musi­cians would set out on a “home­co­ming”. These jazz musi­cians made the link to the land of their ances­tors one of the main ima­gi­na­ry and aes­the­tic “hori­zons” of their music. Art Bla­key, Max Roach, Archie Shepp and the Art Ensemble of Chi­ca­go – among others ! – would play an active part in this fer­tile dia­logue bet­ween jazz and tra­di­tio­nal music, gene­ra­ting forms of musi­cal cross­bree­ding of great ori­gi­na­li­ty in return, whe­ther in South Afri­ca, Ethio­pian or Nige­ria, with Fela Kuti’s afrobeat.




A new Esperanto

From the 1970s, under the par­ti­cu­lar impe­tus of trum­pe­ter Don Cher­ry – ini­tia­tor and cata­lyst of a liber­ta­rian “world music” with no clear sty­lis­tic roots – jazz would consi­de­ra­bly expand its areas of dia­logue, beco­ming, for a mul­ti­tude of musi­cians of dif­ferent ori­gins and cultures, a kind of Espe­ran­to. This new lan­guage allo­wed them to iden­ti­fy with each other, unite and, depen­ding on the cir­cum­stances, under­take pro­cesses of eman­ci­pa­tion from Wes­tern cultu­ral colo­nia­lism or revive forms constrai­ned by tra­di­tion through confron­ting them with free impro­vi­sa­tion. Argen­ti­nian saxo­pho­nist Gato Bar­bie­ri made his “Latin free jazz” the expres­sion of his Third World convic­tions, while the Tuni­sian oudist Anouar Bra­hem model­led him­self on the col­la­bo­ra­tion bet­ween John McLaugh­lin and the Indian musi­cians of the group Shak­ti to reform tra­di­tio­nal Arab music.



Nowa­days, these pro­cesses of cultu­ral mixing and for­mal hybri­di­sa­tion have become so wides­pread as to consti­tute a new Vul­gate for the young contem­po­ra­ry (post)jazz scene, more sty­lis­ti­cal­ly frag­men­ted and dis­pa­rate than ever. It strays into elec­tro, hip hop, contem­po­ra­ry music, rock, and folk­lore of varying degrees of fantasy.


Ancient to the Future”

Never­the­less, many musi­cians are concer­ned about their his­to­ry and fee­ling indeb­ted to a kind of filia­tion in need of honou­ring. With this in mind, they conti­nue in good conscience to cele­brate the eman­ci­pa­to­ry dimen­sion of impro­vi­sa­tion by deve­lo­ping worlds that reflect both on their ancho­ring in musi­cal tra­di­tions, by refer­ring to their Afri­can Carib­bean ori­gins, and their attach­ments to liber­ta­rian and mixed jazz forms inhe­ri­ted from the great free mel­ting pot of the 60s and 70s.

This is true, for example, of the Malian key­board player Cheick Tidiane Seck who, 25 years after his album Sara­la – a col­la­bo­ra­tion with the pia­nist Hank Jones – has today reac­ti­va­ted his ambi­tions to fuse jazz and Afri­can music through a vibrant tri­bute to the flam­boyant uni­verse of the great Ran­dy Wes­ton. Invi­ting an audience of talen­ted musi­cians, all invol­ved in this “home­co­ming”, Cheick Tidiane Seck dares to go wild with sty­lis­tic over­laps based on a few favou­rite themes such as the emble­ma­tic “Tim­buk­tu”. They mix Gna­wa and sub-Saha­ran rhythms, contem­po­ra­ry sounds and unbrid­led impro­vi­sa­tion in a great spi­ri­tua­list com­mu­nion around the tute­la­ry power of the Afri­can matrix.



In a simi­lar spi­rit, the young West Indian pia­nist Jona­than Jurion has set out to re-envi­sion, in the light of his “Creo­le­ness”, the lyri­cal and melan­cho­lic world of saxo­pho­nist Marion Brown, a 1970s Afro-Ame­ri­can free jazz figure who was as legen­da­ry as he was secret. Choo­sing from his vast reper­toire of themes com­pa­tible with the ances­tral rhythms of Gua­de­lou­pean gwo­ka, dres­sing them up in light and colour­ful fabrics typi­cal of Carib­bean music, Jona­than Jurion and his musi­cians reclaim, with com­plete free­dom, the fra­gile and bit­ters­weet poe­try of the poet of the saxo­phone while magni­fying his fier­ce­ly artis­tic independence.



These two pro­jects, relea­sed by the brand-new Komos label, are per­fect examples of the trans-gene­ra­tio­nal and trans­cul­tu­ral move­ment that, since coming into being, has been constant­ly pro­jec­ting jazz beyond itself in an ever-rene­wing quest for its ori­gins. The fact that its imprint can be regu­lar­ly and flee­tin­gly found in these fruit­ful dia­logues, while music from all over the world conti­nues to draw on the moder­ni­ty of its lan­guage to revi­ta­lise its tra­di­tions in return, sug­gests that these exchanges are unli­ke­ly to fizzle out any­time soon.


Stéphane Ollivier


Journalist and music critic Stéphane Ollivier has worked since 1985 at the monthly Jazz Magazine. He has also collaborated with the monthly Les Inrockuptibles (from 1996 to 2002) and occasionally writes for various publications (from Cahier du Cinéma to Vacarme, or Jazzman). He has published several books, such as two biographies: "Charles Mingus" (editions Vade Rétro) ; "Charles Trenet" (co-edited by Nocturne/INA/Radio France and written with Karine Le Bail, a producer at France Musique). He also published a series for kids edited by Gallimard Jeunesse and dedicated to great musicians of all genres (seven books are published up to today, from Tchaikovski to Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles or Django Reinhardt).

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