The drummer Henry Cole plays brilliantly in the quartet of saxophonist and fellow Puerto Rican Miguel Zenón, a band responsible for my favorite jazz album of 2011 (Alma Adentro) and one of my favorites of 2009 (Esta Plena). This year, Cole released his debut album as a bandleader, an Afrobeat record called Roots Before Branches. As opposed to Zenón's new-school jazz swimming in Caribbean folkloric music, Roots is a Fela-Kuti-inspired dance party. It's the same drummer, but a different sonic setting, with a different sort of energy.
Or is it really? Here's what Cole told JazzTimes contributor Fernando Gonzalez:
"There are some musicians today who consider themselves jazz musicians and would never go play a dance gig," says Cole. "Or, if you take a musician who plays dance music, he would never go to hear a jazz show because he'd find it very boring. Something I find important in this project is that it brings those worlds together. The music goes along and then there is an incredible solo with a section in 9/8 or whatever, but it goes right back to the danceable rhythm and the singing."
That sounds about right for Roots Before Branches, which features some of New York's best jazz and salsa improvisers. Except Cole wasn't talking about his own album — he was talking about his work with Zenón. Cole's new record comes out sounding unlike his compatriot's, but it comes from the same deep well of where Afro-Caribbean music and mainland jazz intersect.
The video above contains footage of Henry Cole and the Afrobeat Collective, performing in Puerto Rico. It's a promotional clip, with what appears to be the studio recording for audio, but gives off some of the flavor of the music and what it looks like when it's played. (Like a dance party, mostly.) If this interests you, WBGO and NPR Music are offering a live video webcast of Henry Cole and the Afrobeat Collective tomorrow (Wednesday), May 30 at 8 p.m. ET as part of The Checkout: Live concert series.
Opening is guitarist Gilad Hekselman and his quartet, who will perform some music from the 2011 release Hearts Wide Open. This music doesn't have as obvious of a cross-cultural mashup story behind it, but it is a record of nifty original tunes, played extraordinarily well. Here's a taste of "The Bucket Kicker," with Mark Turner (tenor saxophone), Joe Martin (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums).