Mark Weinstein’s latest album, Tales From The Earth, is due for release in October on the Otá label. As with every new Weinstein release, you can be sure of something very special. In fact, this album has been a very long time coming and has had me impatient to hear it for the last five years. It was in the summer of 2004 that Mark Weinstein first mentioned that he was going to Berlin to record an album with Jean-Paul Bourelly, Omar Sosa and some African musicians. I was already excited! When Weinstein returned from Berlin he was real excited, and thus my own excitement grew as indeed did my impatience to hear the results. Five years later, we can at last hear the results of some four hours or recording, condensed into just over an hour. Was it worth the wait? You bet!
In the summer of 2004, Jean-Paul Bourelly, that monster guitarist who can justly claim the mantle of Jimi Hendrix, already familiar here from his participation on Mark Weinstein’s 2004/5 album Algo Más and 1998’s Jazz World Trios, was involved in organising a festival of African music and the African music diaspora in Berlin. This was an opportunity too good to miss, and Weinstein asked Bourelly to organise a recording session for him while a number of musicians participating in the festival were available.
The musicians available for the recording session consisted of, in addition to Weinstein and Bourelly, Cuban piano and mallets phenomenon Omar Sosa (who is co-credited with Mark Weinstein here and whose regular label is releasing Tales From The Earth), best remembered here for his participation on Weinstein’s 1999 Cu-Bop release Cuban Roots Revisited, here playing mainly marimba as well as vibes and piano, balafon virtuoso Aly Keita, Aho Luc Nicaise and Mathias Agbokou on percussion and vocals, Polish bassist Stanislou Michalan and Marque Gilmore on drums.
Bourelly’s active contributions to the actual music are limited to two tracks due to sheer exhaustion after the festival, on the final day of which he had played with every performer on that day, not to mention having organised the festival as well as the recording session. While this may somewhat disappoint Bourelly fans, it certainly doesn’t diminish Mark Weinstein’s Tales From The Earth in any way. Bourelly’s contribution in bringing these musicians together in the first place is a major credit to him.
The recording itself took place at UFO Studios over a two day period. As it turned out, UFO Studios were located in something of an iconic building in Berlin that once housed the notorious big-mouth Goebbels’ propaganda ministry of the criminal thugs responsible for the holocaust. The fact that this circumstance of having to confront this demonic agony in such an intimate way didn’t stop Mark Weinstein, a Jew, in his tracks is not only near miraculous but also a credit to Weinstein’s resilience. One would hope that such a gathering of ‘Untermenschen’ at UFO Studios would have thoroughly rattled the bones of those thugs once resident there.
As for the music itself of Mark Weinstein’s Tales From The Earth, this is not only completely, freely improvised, without any preconceptions or prior ideas, but also goes right back to the very roots of jazz, West African music. All the participating musicians are deeply rooted in and committed to the music of Africa in its various forms, and it is this shared commitment and dedication that provided the basis for their recording session.
Tales From The Earth is completely unrehearsed and spontaneous. The album has been edited from about four hours of recorded music, but aside from this editing and sequencing has remained untouched and is ‘as played’ during the session. This process of editing down some four hours, with individual segments sometimes lasting some twenty minutes, to about one hour as presented on the album, and furthermore to come up with fourteen tracks that not only make perfect sense in themselves but also form a wonderfully cohesive and coherent whole, must have been an extraordinarily painstaking and difficult one. The result is a tribute to both the genius of Mark Weinstein and his regular recording engineer Phil Ludwig, who together undertook this mammoth task.
With Tales From The Earth Mark Weinstein has taken free jazz to a whole new level. This is free jazz at its very best, free jazz that still makes sense to the listener and that isn’t simply a sequence of more or less dissonant flights of fancy as sadly is so often the case. This music is a series of profound dialogues, steering clear of the conventional jazz solo. Everything is of the moment and in the moment. The resulting evolving conversations are not only coherent and make perfect sense, but moreover are exquisitely enjoyable and compelling.
In exploring its African roots, the very close connection of the music of the African diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean becomes beautifully obvious, the spatial and temporal separation of the musical cultures is shown to be of so little consequence. The very roots of Afro-American, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian and Trinidadian music (especially ‘tamboo bamboo’ and even the relatively recent steel pan music) are all there, laid bare and made so easy to comprehend.
The fourteen tracks on Tales From The Earth are furthermore completely consistent with not a single weak track. As spellbinding as it is compelling and absorbing, as exciting as it is appealing and beautiful, this music is of uncommonly wide appeal. It will please free jazz aficionados and world music fans alike, and beyond.
Not all musicians play on all tracks – as already noted, Jean-Paul Bourelly only participates on two, for example. Weinstein himself plays on most, and his flowing melodies are a delight, showing him at his most lyrical yet. At times, he switches between his different flutes on the same track to superb effect, making especially fine use also of his bass flute. Omar Sosa’s marimba in particular also shines, as does Aly Keita’s balafon. The fine lead vocals of Aho Luc Nicaise also need singling out, as do his and Mathias Agbokou’s percussion work.
Mark Weinstein, ‘The Man with the Magic Flute’, has once again worked his magic with Tales From The Earth. Always surprising, Weinstein has come up with an exciting album that is charming and haunting and he once again takes the jazz flute to new horizons. Again, Weinstein has given us music that is as completely fresh as it is refreshing.
Mark Weinstein’s and Omar Sosa’s Tales From The Earth is an album that’s not to be missed by any lover of good music. As a bonus, it also gives the ghastly jewel case a miss in favour of a beautifully designed card sleeve with plastic CD holder inner.