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Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Mofaya! - Like One Long Dream (Trost, 2021) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

This review will be no surprise to anybody who knows the players in Mofaya!, saxophonist John Dikeman, trumpeter Jaimie Branch, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Aleksander Škorić. Each musician listed is well known in the jazz realms which readers here at the Free Jazz Blog frequent. In fact, it is only Škorić who somehow seems to keep a low internet profile, though what I scraped from the first page of the Google results shows that he and Dikeman have been a musical duo for a number of years.

So, yes, on paper (or screen) this is a group that simply should work together. Dikeman probably knew this when he invited Branch and Stewart to join the Mofaya duo (note the lack of the exclamation point for the duo spelling) to create this group. The result breathes fire, with intense group interactions mixed with distinct moments for each musician to show us what they got.

There are three tracks, the first 'Your Country' taking up a rollicking 27 minutes, and the other two 'The Tank' and 'Wake Up' clock in at 17 and 7 minutes respectively. Not that length matters here, each one is filled with vivacity and its own personality. 'Your Country' begins with a call from the saxophone, the trumpet answers and brings along the bass and drums, it only take 30 seconds or so to ignite. The group improvisation soon yields to a lightening quick solo from Branch, then to an exploratory one from Stewart. Dikeman stokes the elements starting at the 10 minute mark, and a few minutes later, with encouragement from Škorić, the flames are again dancing about. Then, suddenly, things come nearly to a halt. For several minutes the quartet is searching through the scorched earth around them, and only after several minutes Dikeman seems to find it. By a careful fanning of the embers, the blaze comes back, bigger even than before. It is suffice to say that 'Your Country' is on fire.

'The Tank' begins with Stewart scratching at the bass strings with his bow. Škorić joins, using the outer edges of his set to add accents and adorn the shifting smoke of the bassists' sounds. Dikeman joins, following the wisps of melody as they rise and dissipate. Then the group picks up the tempo. The track feels a little less dense than the other, but more playful. The closer 'Wake Up' starts with, well, a real wake up call. The explosion of sound soon condenses into a more focused form. Dikeman finds a melody that works well with Stewart's lopsided groove and Škorić's expressive drumming, and soon Branch joins with a muted trill from the edges.

While it is fun to scrounge for metaphors for this dynamic music, it is also nice to simply state that it is a joy to listen to some freely improvised music in such a joyful form on Like One Long Dream. Mofaya! definitely brings more fire, but not without a requisite amount of empathy and listening.