Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Album Review: Chief Adjuah - Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning

Chief Adjuah
Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning
***and1/2 out of *****

Chief Adjuah is constantly searching for sounds, inspiration, himself, cultural influences, the truth and on his latest offering, Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning, his journey brought him to a new space where his trademark trumpet (which brought him to national jazz fame) stayed in it's case. This album is a percussive focused adventure that is rooted in Western African folk and New Orleans Second Line, his 14th studio album pushes him ever further away from contemporary jazz. 

This is not the first time Chief Adjuah has shifted gears, he evolved from Christian Scott and Stretch Music, to Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah for his fantastic Centennial Trilogythe modern sounding Ancestral Recall and the excellent live album Axiom. Now progressing once more, Chief Adjuah has tried to merge the electronic with natural sounds while continuing to explore his African roots, his hometown New Orleans, and music as a spiritual process.

Focused on new instrumentation, some of which he created himself, Adjuah plays the aptly named Chief Adjuah’s Bow, which blends the West African n’goni and kora with the European harp; a custom n’goni; and a Pan-African drum kit while also chanting, speaking and singing throughout. There are a host of other contributors including: Trail Chief Kiel Adrian Scott – Vocals, Percussion, Weedie Braimah – Djembe, Congas, Tambourine, Dun Duns, Percussion, Vocals, Luques Curtis – Bass, Guembri Vocals, Elé Howell - Pan African Kit, Drums, Bells, Tambourines, Vocals, Brian Richburg Jr. – Drums, SPDSX, Percussion, Tambourines, Vocals, Marcus Gillmore – Drums, Joe Dyson Jr. Pan African Kit, Corey Fonville - Drums, Alfred Jordan – Drums, Percussion, Tambourine, Vocals, Mizan Willis – Dun Duns, Bells, Shekere, Percussion, Vocals, Amyna Love – Vocals, Amina Scott – Vocals, Lioness Sia Fodey – Vocals.

The album is his most naturalistic sounding release in a longtime, opening with recorded wind, his bow, soft vocals, and just a few digital beats to mix things up on "Blood Calls Blood" while the percussion takes over on the swelling "Trouble That Mornin'" as Adjuah's singing sounds confident.  

The album centerpiece is the title track that uses skittering drums, hypnotic repetition, strings, and an extended spoken word section from Adjuah that praises feminine strength and preaches against the scared and fearful bigotry that has infected a large part of modern society. A conceptually admirable undertaking, but at it's length of over fifteen minutes and with minimalist musical changes, the effort drifts away from it's powerful message. Better is the album closing retake on the track, a duo effort with Adjuah and an explosive Howell on drums that ups the tempo and trims the run time, while the best out and out percussion on the album is "On To New Orleans [Runnin' in 7's Redux]" which is crazy in it's fierce, propulsive, percussive displays.

Like The Wild Magnolia's and The Wild Tchoupitoulas, in the 70's, Adjuah is bringing the sounds he grew up with on the streets of New Orleans to the world, but those albums moved in a funky/dance floor filling direction, Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning is more contemplative and inward looking. 

The albums combining of Western African, naturalistic folk sounds and New Orleans street beats is unique and Adjuah takes from the past and those before him as he focuses on traditional Mardi Gras Indian songs yet still puts his own spin on them. The best of this bunch is "Xodokan Iko - Hu Na Ney" which has dueling vocals, African chants, yelps, and a familiar melody as the "Iko Iko" chants ring out, but Adjuah also makes the history personal  

The trio of "Shallow Water [Tribute Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. - Guardians of the Flame]",  "Ashé Chief Donald [Tribute Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr. - Congo Square Nation]", and "Golden Crown [Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah – Xodokan Nation]" pass down his heritage from generation to generation. "Shallow Water" uses tambourines and shifting tempos to go along with the call and response chants, "Ashé Chief Donald" is a history lesson in musical form, and "Golden Crown" brings it all home to the recently crowned Big Chief himself.  

Along with those tributes to his uncles, Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning shares a direct connection to Harrison Jr's Indian Blue in the idea of fusing worlds and genres. Indian Blue combined modern jazz with Mardi Gras masking tradition and while Chief Adjuah isn't as successful in melding West Africa, NOLA, and natural folk sounds, yet his journey is always exciting to follow. 

One of the most innovative artists in any genre, Chief Adjuah Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning is just another step on his continual path. It is a pleasure to hear him grow and advance. 
Support the artists, buy the album, peep some video below:

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