By Thom Jurek (AMG)
The Afro-Latin Vintage Orchestra may not be well-known outside of Europe save for the track "Kingston Abeba," off their 2009 debut album Definitely Roots. It was selected for the Paris DJs' (Grant Phabao and DJouls) mixtape 21st Century Afro Extravaganza. Led by virtuoso percussionist Masta Conga, the French group is truly an orchestra, numbering ten or more players at any given time. Definitely Roots drew Euro raves for its meld of Afro-beat, funk, old descarga, rhumba, reggae, and Western and Ethiopian jazz. They followed it a year later with the stellar Ayodegi: A Modern Afro-Fusion Ensemble, which was rooted in '70s-era jazz funk. Last Odyssey, issued by Ubiquity, is the group's debut international release and provides a stellar introduction to their ambitious musical vision as well as their virtuosic instrumental talent.
The composition and recording process begins with Masta Conga laying down his various percussion parts before adding Jean-Luc Riga's double bass and Max Hartock's drums. Elvis Martinez Smith's guitars and Benjamin Peyrot des Gachons' keyboards are layered on top of these. Finally, violins, brass, reeds, and woodwinds are added. On Last Odyssey's 15 tracks (none of which are longer than five minutes), jazz is the glue that holds the various styles together (all of the aforementioned styles and more). The gorgeous weave of slow rhumba on "Petrof Sublimation" kicks off the set, followed by popping salsero congas, knotty modal horn, and clavinet-adorned funk on "Onze de France." "Gibbon's Dub" winds organ-driven Afro-beat and jazz around deep dread reggae. "Requiem pour un Grooveur" employs strings, flute, and hand percussion, a Hohner D synth, and female backing vocals to usher in a Wurlitzer electric piano improvising on a soul vamp. "Harissa" utilizes Mulatu-styled Ethio-jazz to get inside deep funk. "Samourai" showcases killer guaguanco chops and hard rock in a dizzying weave fed by pulsing, drum-heavy, Kofi Ghanaba-style Afro-jazz. "Sequences" weds post-bop to descarga before launching into hard Afro-Cuban piano jazz on "Latin Break." The set closer, "Freestyle," is a knotty meld of Rhodes grooves, strutting upright bass, hand percussion, and drum breaks with swaggering saxophones laying down heavy, hard-bopping soul-jazz. Last Odyssey is dazzling, deep, and wildly adventurous. It is music played with rigorous discipline, creativity, and joy, all of which are imparted to the listener.