The Kora Band, an ensemble which integrates the uniquely entrancing timbre of the kora — a traditional 21-string harp from West Africa — into a jazz context, present their third release New Cities and first for Whirlwind. The new album showcases a suite composed by pianist and bandleader Andrew Oliver commissioned by the 2012 Chamber Music America New Jazz Works program. The material explores the intersection between contemporary jazz and one of its main ancestors in west African Mandinka music, exploring the boundaries between these two musical cultures and honoring the jazz tradition of combining disparate musical elements into a vibrant and coherent whole. After premiering the material at the Earshot Jazz Festival in 2013, the band spent a week at Kung Fu Bakery studios in Portland with engineer Bob Stark working on the new album.
New Cities presents a suite of compositions constructed on the foundations of traditional west African Mandinka music. Each song takes an element from a traditional piece, deconstructs it, and uses the resulting material as the basis for a new composition. The original pieces range from common tunes such as 'Kaira,' made popular in the 1950's and dedicated to an important religious teacher whose work involved mass prayers for peace and 'Mami Wata,' originally a highlife guitar piece from Ghana which entered the Malian and Guinean repertoire in the post-colonial era, to obscure tunes such as 'Fayinkunko,' dedicated to a mostly forgotten Gambian patron. With this approach the music retains the exciting and visceral grooves of both musics with strong melodies reminiscent of rhapsodic Mandinka vocal styles. At the same time the jazz backgrounds and improvisational skills of the band members are highlighted, resulting in a contemporary reflection of the globalized music world of the 21st century.
The Kora Band was formed in 2008 by Andrew Oliver after a tour in West Africa with the U.S. State Department and Jazz at Lincoln Center's "Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad" program. A chance encounter with a kora player at a club in Dakar, Senegal inspired Andrew to seek out Kane Mathis, one of America's foremost kora players and an expert in the intricacies and history of Mandinka music. The group was rounded out with drummer Mark DiFlorio, also present on the State Department tour, bassist Brady Millard-Kish, and trumpeter Chad McCullough. The group's first album Just 4 U "...blends the swing and intellect of American jazz with the divine poetry of West African music." (The Oregonian). Their 2010 follow-up, Cascades (OA2 Records) reached #12 on the U.S. World Music Airplay charts as well as winning 2010 Northwest Jazz Album of the Year from Earshot Jazz in Seattle. Jazziz Magazine wrote: "Whether carrying the band through streams of African or Caribbean music, or jazz homegrown in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in the United States, Cascades proceeds in a manner that’s unhurried and consistently inviting, in refreshing contrast to other genre-straddling projects of its general type."
"The Kora Band doesn't really sound like any other group. This is an amazing feat, in a century supersaturated with music of every hue, and a convincing testament to the innovative sound of a jazz band successfully incorporating non-Western traditional instruments." ★★★★ All About Jazz
“New Cities is an accomplished work.” Bebop Spoken Here
"An inspired third release for The Kora Band, a transatlantic quintet exploring the links between contemporary jazz and traditional West African music." ★★★★ Evening Standard
"The playing is exemplary... exciting." Songlines
“The pianist Andrew Oliver and Kora Player Kane Mathis discover new musical perspectives by creating a dialogue between the jazz, blues and classical of their backgrounds and that of west African Mandinka folk music.” Jazzwise Magazine
"It's not jazz with kora, it's a complete and complex sonic landscape utilising the core of each tradition - the strong grooves and cross rhythms of the Mandinka kora meshed with ensemble playing, mellow reed sounds, silvery brass, and some lovely tunes. A significant achievement." London Jazz
"Irresistible, foot tapping appeal that lasts from start to finish. Mighty enjoyable." ★★★★★ Jazz Journal
“Brilliant compositions, engaging instrumentation, exciting sound. ‘New Cities’ blurs the boundaries between modern jazz and traditional music of West Africa.” CD Reviews