Album of the Day: Nubiyan Twist, “Jungle Run”

To anyone who grew up in the 1990s, certain elements of Jungle Run may be more apparent than others: neo-soul, acid jazz, a dash of trip-hop, and, yes, jungle. Yet even the most cursory listen—more than, say, 90 seconds—will dispel any notions that the album is merely a throwback.

Instead, Nubiyan Twist, the London-based collective founded by guitarist and producer Tom Excell and vocalist Nubiya Brandon, pull elements from across the African musical diaspora. Afrobeat meets dub reggae, meets Latin, meets vocal trance, meets rap, meets all the genres listed above, and more—a canny assemblage of international guest stars hammer home Jungle Run’s diasporic scope. Afrobeat founding father Tony Allen holds down the drums on “Ghosts,” percolating against the smooth coolant of Nick Richards’s Seal-esque vocal. Brazilian-English singer and percussionist Pilo Adami anchors the dreamy bossanova “Borders”; Ghanaian hip-hop artist K.O.G. appears twice; and legendary Ethio-jazz vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke graces the darkly funky “Addis to London.”

“It’s gonna be a different sound, right?” Astatke is heard saying at the beginning of that track. “Not a lot of jazz guys, jazz things.” He’s both right and wrong. Actually, there’s quite a wide streak of jazz running through Nubiyan Twist’s music, with meaty lines and improvisations from trumpeter Jonny Enser, saxophonists Richards, Denis Scully, and Joe Henwood (not to mention Astatke’s tour de force on “Addis to London”) illuminated by Oliver Cadman’s Fender Rhodes. If the burgeoning London jazz scene has deep roots in the city’s underground clubs, Jungle Run stands as proof that it strikes at London’s cosmopolitan heart, too.

-Michael J. West

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