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World Music CD Reviews Africa

The Embassadors (Feat. Michel Ongaru)

By Bruce Miller
Published July 18, 2008

Healing The Music

Under the direction of New Zealander, reed/keyboard player and world traveler Hayden Chisholm— and highlighting the connection Chisholm made with Kenyan vocalist/ multi-instrumentalist Michel Ongaru—the Embassadors’ debut is a cool fusion of East African meditations, nu jazz and dub, yet most of the tracks here inhabit a space not so easy to pigeonhole. Ongaru’s voice is a deep, authoritative baritone not unlike onetime Sun Ra Arkestra member Ricky Murray’s in its lugubriousness, and although he sounds positively sublime on the album’s groove-based numbers, he’s completely overbearing on the piano-driven ballads, which keep this disc from being essential. Even so, on such tracks as “Tenda Wema” and “Nia Njia,” the band stirs a seething caldron of mid-tempo rhythms driven by ostinato bass pluckings, Can-like drum patterns, shards of guitar and horn, and Ongaru smearing the proceedings with pensive Swahili incantations. When they’re firing on all cylinders like this, the Embassadors can do no wrong.