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Monday, February 17, 2014

Mombu - Niger (Subsound Records, 2013) ****

By Antonio Poscic

About three years ago, the Italian jazz/noise/punk greats Zu ceased to exist. At the same time, Mombu surfaced. The band, featuring Zu’s saxophonist Luca T. Mai and his Italian compatriot, drummer Antonio Zitarelli (of Neo fame), was poised to take Zu’s place on the scene. Instead, it became clear from the very beginning that Mombu’s was an altogether different approach to art. The impressively massive and instantly recognizable sound of Mai’s baritone saxophone remains the only point of similarity between the two bands. Mombu nurture a very specific and unique style. As the duo tends to stress in interviews, their intent is to translate the authentic and primordial elements of African tribal music into the language of extreme music, jazzcore and free jazz. Their latest album, Niger, is a testament to their mission. Whereas on their previous two albums you could detect some elements evocative of Zu, Niger primarily sounds like a completely faithful reading of tribal music. The ideas behind their approach, their outrageous blend of African rhythms, free jazz, punk, and even grindcore, might seem oxymoronic at first glance, but the result of Mombu’s work is truly fascinating.

Niger is comprised of seven songs with each song sounding distinct enough without being repetitive and yet allowing the album to function great as a whole. The understanding and deep respect that Mai and Zitarelli have towards the roots of their inspiration can be heard throughout these songs. In contrast to many modern world music projects, the tribal influences are not trivialized and butchered. They are only slightly adapted and changed to fit their original, extreme styles. This is further emphasized when the duo is joined by the Senegalese musician Mbar Ndiaye. It is incredible how his singing, chanting, and percussions fit naturally and effortlessly into Mombu’s sound which leads us to believe that these songs was always meant to be interpreted like this.

Two elements can be seen as the driving force here: the hypnotic rhythms and the colossal, thunderous saxophone. Zitarelli’s drumming, stylistically planted somewhere between jazz and rock, brings forward the primal rhythms that can be identified in the music of so many different cultures throughout human history. Rhythms that are, for some weird anthropological reasons, so appealing to the human ear and mind. On the other hand, the guttural, vibrato sound of Mai’s baritone saxophone provides a layer of energy and creativity which becomes most noticeable in their free jazz inspired passages.

From the very first song, the main formula behind the song structures becomes clear. It consists of Mai repeating an interesting phrase on his saxophone, Zitarelli pummeling one of his rolling, trans-inducing rhythms. Then, suddenly, a change in rhythm: slowing down, speeding up, soon followed by an Ayleresque saxophone passage. And all along there’s electricity and incredible energy flowing from the record. It’s simple, yet enthralling and exciting music. The final element featured on this album is provided by Marco 'Cinghio' Mastrobuono on electric guitar. His contribution gives some of the tracks a more westerly feel, but doesn’t affect the sound in a substantial way.

All things considered, Niger is a captivating record that might make you rethink the ideas and preconceptions that are usually associated with “world music”. Even for the less adventurous listeners, if you look beyond the intensity and rawness that strikes you initially, there’s some great and smart music to be found here. Highly recommended.

A sample of their music:


Anonymous said...

Zu is still alive! They will release a new EP in april and will go on tour this summer.

Antonio said...

Yep, Zu are back with a new drummer. Should be an exciting new record!