Nass Marrakech / Bouderbala
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Nass Marrakech
World Village (

cd cover The ritual trance music of the Gnawa (a mystical Sufi sect descended from black Africans enslaved by Arabs centuries ago) has been an increasing presence on the global wavelength of late, both in undiluted form and through fusionists like Hassan Hakmoun and Nass Marrakech. The latter will certainly be the subject of a few critical jabs for their latest release, on which familiar Gnawa instruments like the sentir (bass lute) and karkaba (metal castanets) are combined with piano, violin, reeds and other outside flavors.

Does it work? Well, it doesn't hurt that the piano is manned by Cuba's Omar Sosa, who included Gnawa sounds on his own recent discs, or that the characteristic Gnawa time signatures are kept very much at the center of things while the guest players make their mark in a respectfully secondary yet highly attuned and skillful manner. Still, there is compromise to set the purists bristling. Some of the stark, minimalist spirituality of unadorned Gnawa music is lost, leaving you in less of a mind-altered state than you may have been expecting. What is showcased to good effect is the genre's adaptability, recalling to some degree Ray Lema's recent collaboration with the group Tyour Gnaoua, on which such styles as reggae and sparse funk were part of the blend. On Bouderbala, it's mostly a jazz feel below the surface, complete with hushed passages, instruments sparsely soloing in and out and a casualness that stops well short of seeming slack. In the final analysis, this is a good piece of work, likely to convince even the stern traditionalist that such ingredients as Brazilian percussion and soprano saxophone can find a place in the Gnawa groove. - Tom Orr

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