It has often been said that art is all about risk, and there certainly is a lot of truth to that statement. There is no greater forum in modern art for risk than jazz music, the degree of that factor being multiplied exponentially when linking or fusing it with other musical styles. In the case of the Seattle based band Duende Libre, that leap of faith takes them to exploring world music forms through the lens of modern jazz. On their previous release, Drift (Self- Released, 2018), we find the band for the most part in its original trio form, featuring pianist and bandleader Alex Chadsey, uber talented electric bassist Farko Dosumov, and drummer/percussionist Jeff Busch. Chadsey's compositions are embellished beautifully by his playing and that of Dosumov, who uses the bass as a lead instrument in Jaco Pastorius-like fashion. Busch utilizes his experience as a world traveler and student of world percussion traditions, along with his phenomenal chops, to create a sound that is original and special. The legendary Seattle jazz spot Tula's hired the trio to add to their decades long tradition of presenting piano trios, including those of Jessica Williams, Larry Fuller, Dave Peck, Bill Anschell, George Cables and Marc Seales.
While the trio has often added members for appearances in the studio and onstage, The Dance She Spoke (Self-Released, 2020) is a giant sidestep from their first two recordings, essentially handing the reins of the band over to a friend who journeyed several times to West Africa to study traditional dance, song and culture, including studies with master teacher Famadou Konate. That friend is Frank Anderson, a local blues and jazz singer from Seattle who is a veritable unknown even in the best known jazz and blues spots around his home town. Enter that inevitable factor of risk that accompanies meaningful and tangible art like an unshakable shadow.
Six of the nine tracks are interpretations of traditional songs from Mali and the Republic of Guinea. Chadsey, who has been the primary songwriter in the band, offers two, "Hush (Dawn)," and "Hush (Twilight)," bookending the collection with the most inspired playing of the session. Chadsey's brilliance as a pianist is aptly demonstrated on these two tracks, tugged ever so slightly by Busch's intuitive drum and cymbal work. Dosumov is always there, lurking in the shadows, surfacing every so often as an innovative soloist. The two compositions demonstrate the "big sound" the trio has that is quite unique and extraordinary. The collective piece, "You Gotta Go," features the relevant lyrics of Anderson, stating the obvious just a few short months short of Election Day.
On the remaining six tracks, the band adds its adventurous, jazz based spirit to this set of tunes brought to the table by Anderson. Performed in the Maninka Language, they bring to light the meaning of the album's title—that music and dance are so closely connected that one can "see the music, and hear the dance." The tunes illustrate how sound, movement and language are considered "interdependent parts of a larger experience in certain African cultures."
Conceptually, this project hits the nail directly on the head in terms of the band jumping off into world culture from a foundational experience in jazz. Chadsey's trademark pianism alludes to the past journeys of the band. "Fefo," and "Lafe" feature the vocal work that, while admirably bearing musical gifts from Mali and Guinea, lacks the genuine emotion one might experience with this music. Chava Mirel, known well in folk and Jewish music circles, possesses a powerhouse voice that expresses emotion naturally and without restraint. Her talents are unfortunately underutilized here, as was the case with her appearance on Drift. Anderson is able to let loose on "You Gotta Go," giving listeners a chance to hear his blues roots, expressed with his own lyrics depicting a certain orange demon currently residing on Pennsylvania Ave.
Conceptually, and in terms of performance, The Dance She Spoke is a leap well worth taking. Chadsey continues to deliver articulate and thoughtful playing. Dosumov gives us a glimpse of his brilliance that needs to be known more on an international scale. Busch is his ever-joyous self, and the perfect compliment to Chadsey's conventions. The recording is as a snapshot, depicting a period of time in the metamorphosis of this band that continues to search for its identity. Handing the keys over to a vocalist who has barely made a mark of his own is a huge risk. It would more seem to be a decision based on friendship and opportunity than one based on career and ambition. Whatever the case, we can all look forward to the next adventure, that next quest to find duende.