Speaking In Tongues
By "word" the four far-fetched players of Speaking In Tongues mean to speak in the struck chords of rhythm. Though all of them are natural improvisers, they are also all fine rhythmatists superbly capable of keeping time. Master drummer of Ghana Sowah Mensah and pipa virtuoso Gao Hong from the People's Republic of China color much of this set with African and Far East tones. They are well balanced by the rhythm section of American Marc Anderson, long-time Steve Tibbetts collaborator, and jazz bassist Enrique Toussaint of Mexico.
Anderson patterns this elusive genreless session with his characteristically sophisticated, earthy percussion touch and is matched by the organic playing of Toussaint who similarly avoids category and concept. The group has focused foremost on the endlessly variable world of hand drum cycles and instrument texture juxtapositions. Of the ten tracks, eight are originals with two representing arrangements of traditional Chinese folk tunes.
The riskiest selection is the short Chinese Rap track that, without text translation, is difficult to discern as either the humorous oddity or an important commentary of some sort. Everywhere else however this is an impressively integrated team that tells melodic, instrumental, sometimes film music-like dramas with consistently riveting technique. What exactly is "world music"? Here it is way beyond the idea of a novel whim.
"First Word" is topical, personal, restorative and dazzling in its webs of rolling percussion. The platform of peace through shared culture comes shining through this excellent studio recording which is about as engaging as one could want. Instruments shimmer in space and gently slap echo across the soundstage before receding into a soft black backdrop. Its production taken together with its international-caliber musicianship, Speaking In Tongues realize a promise of cross-cultural interaction through a democracy of group improvising, where timbres speak of places, rhythms speak of individuals, and the joy of contributing to a unique entity is apparent by all. - Steve Taylor