Recommending this remarkable release is easy; describing it is not, so here goes: Originating from a village in southern Morocco, the music of Jajouka has been described by William S. Burroughs as “the 4,000 year old rock ‘n’ roll band”. Championed by artists as diverse as Paul Bowles, Brian Jones and Ornette Coleman (who collaborated with the Master Musicians on his album Dancing In Your Head), the occasion for this album (all profits from albums sales will benefit the Jajouka Foundation) was inspired by the friendship between Billy Martin (Medeski Martin and Wood) and Bachir Attar, the current leader of the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Aware that some of the Master Musicians have died in recent years and others require medical care, Martin — who also produced the recordings — assembled the diverse stable of willing musicians who, according to the liner notes, “come together to do their part to help preserve and further the music, myth and magic of Jajouka”.
The nine tracks combine new recordings and remixes of traditional songs, resulting in an experience that imbues a timeless sound with a forward-looking sensibility. Whether it’s John Zorn’s alto sax wails competing with Indian songstress Falu’s soothing chants, or DJ Logic pulling out his large bag of turntable tricks, or the regal embellishment of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, this project mixes the exotic with the esoteric … and it works. Each selection has elements of trance music, wherein a particular groove is established and then expanded upon. It can be serene, like Lee Ranaldo’s almost pastoral “Boujeloudia Magick”, or urban, like Marc Ribot’s propulsive “Into The Rif”. Special mention must be made of Ornette Coleman’s reunion with the Master Musicians, “Jnuin” — jazz fans will immediately recognize Coleman’s harmolodic assault, which is carried along by a droning percussion.
This is world music, envisioned and reimagined by musicians who instinctively stay a step (or two) removed from the safety and boredom of the mainstream. It is music that brings other worlds to your ears, and tells a story that has been a work-in-progress for many centuries. That Martin was able to gather this collection of visionaries, iconoclasts and rebels seems more like fate than fortune. Credit and kudos to all involved for their efforts to make a faraway place and culture a little less foreign, and open contemporary ears — and minds — to the magic of Jajouka.