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Published: 2013/09/14
by Brian Robbins

Various Artists
The Road To Jajouka

Howe Records

William S. Burroughs may have written about “the 4,000-year-old rock ‘n’ roll band” he’d crossed paths with in Morocco back in the 1950s, but it was Rolling Stones co-founder Brian Jones who turned us on. The late Stone’s Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka – released posthumously in 1971 – was the first mainstream taste that much of the Western world had of the Master Musicians of Jajouka’s magical weave of ancient wind instruments and percussion.

In the years since, others have been gathered up by the Master Musicians’ sound and have made pilgrimages to record their own collaborations with them. Dig around and you’ll find work from folks as varied as free jazz king Ornette Coleman and soprano saxmaster Steve Lacy to punk pop queen Debby Harry and Genesis P-Orridge, the gender-bending frontperson of Throbbing Gristle. Regardless of the setting, the ancient vibe of the Jajouka Masters seeps through like the sweetest of smoke, inviting the listener to burrow into the grooves and let go.

You want to talk trance music? This is the real thing, boys and girls – nearly as old as civilization’s first breath.

The Road To Jajouka is the latest recorded project that brings Western artists together with the Master Musicians – and does so in a manner that combines respect, love, and admiration with dollops of fearless improv and boundary-nudging. In short, if you want to feed your head with the sounds of Jajouka, you’ll find no better place to start.

Percussionist Billy Martin serves as musical ringmaster for much of the album, which is a natural fit for him. Where Martin has long been known as the first responder to a rhythm challenge, leading the way into uncharted groove territory with his drum kit and a miner’s light strapped to his head, here you can feel the Master Musicians taking him by the hand. Seriously: Martin’s grins come through in his response to the challenges of the Masters’ undulating swirls as he follows the path they’re laying down in the moment.

The opener “Hand of Fatima” finds Martin’s bandmates Chris Wood (bass) and John Medeski (organ) joining him in the groovequest, along with Marc Ribot on guitar and banjo. The result is slinky/cool and shoulder-swaying – and it matters not that you understand the spoken-word passage offered by Jajouka band leader Bachir Attar: by then you will get it … I guarantee it.

Elsewhere, the vibe swings from techno/primal parfait (“Baraka” features DJ Logic’s turntables alongside Mickey Hart’s percussion) to midnight psychedelic campfire (Ornette’s wild and free workout on “Jnuin”); from a wild-assed run through the hills (Lee Ranaldo lends gusts of guitar squall to “Boujeloudia Magick”) to a seemingly-bottomless freefall (the album-closing “Al’Aita”, featuring Howard Shore and the London Philharmonic Orchestra).

Marc Ribot lets fly with buckets of guitar at the multi-dimensioned walls of “Into the Rif” erected by the Master Musicians and the bass/drum pulse of Shahzad Ismaily and Billy Martin. (The Sirius Quartet applies a layer of strings here and there, resulting in a “Kashmir”-style grandeur that has never been – nor will be – confined by the walls of a stadium.) Bill Laswell is a natural for this project, having applied his bass lines to projects around the globe; here he bumps hips with Martin’s drum kit, the talking drum of Aïyb Dieng, and Falu’s hypnotic vocal.

One of the album’s most dramatic cuts is “Djebala Hills”, most notable for the yin/yang of Danny Blume’s swooping acoustic bass that provides backbone for the track’s first portion versus the walloping thud of Flea’s most-definitely-plugged-in sound that rocks the song’s latter half (while John Zorn’s sax pierces the sky). Make sure you have your seat belt buckled prior to the 3:05 mark … don’t say you weren’t warned.

You’ll note that the phrase “A Benefit Album” is included on the cover of The Road To Jajouka : all profits from the album sales will benefit The Jajouka Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides community health care for the musicians and their families while promoting awareness of their music.

A vibe that feels this good can’t help but help this old world we live in.

Keep it going.


Brian Robbins sits on a mountaintop over at

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