by Tom Haugen
The impetus for the multilingual experimental jazz band Afro Yaqui Music Collective is rooted in the ever changing political climate, and the six tracks here certainly carry on that theme as they discuss the struggles of Maroons, who escaped slavery, and especially Russell Maroon Shoatz, a political prisoner that spent 30 years in solitary confinement.
“Nonantzin” starts the listen with soft strings as very expressive vocals from Gizelxanath Rodriguez settle in alongside bright baritone sax, punchy drums and soulful keys in the fusion climate, and “Sister Soul” follows with a trio of vocalists meeting in a spoken word meets world music hybrid that’s both adventurous and empowering.
In the middle, “La Cigarra” is a swift and soaring display of bluesy, jazzy ideas, while “Ya Habibi” recruits hip-hop into its funky bass work, lively rhythms and an infectious beat that’s not short on grooves either.
Near the end, we find the 10 minutes of “We Refuse To Be Used And Abused”, where a 6 minute intro unfolds like a cultured jam band approach as they address workers’ rights, and “Insurrealista” exits the listen with a busy, dreamy landscape of swirling percussion, firm brass and dynamic instrumentation from the many players present.
An ensemble that began when saxophonist Ben Barson moved to Pittsburgh from New York City with his wife, Gizelxanath Rodriguez, the Afro Yaqui Music Collective is a fusion experience like no other, where jazz, funk, blues, hip-hop and rock are met with Latin-American and Afro-Cuban lineage that’s always insightful politically/socially and musically daring, accomplished and consistently flourishing.