This album, the fifth under his own name, places Boone alongside an Accra-based cohort of Ghanaian jazz musicians known as the Ghana Jazz Collective. Tenor saxophonist Bernard Ayisa, pianist Victor Dey Jr., bassist Bright Osei, and drummer Frank Kissi join Boone (with further assistance on some tracks from vocalist Sandra Huson) on four of his originals, a reimagining of Herbie Hancock's classic "Maiden Voyage," and intriguing covers of two lesser-known jazz compositions.
Though created in a country some five thousand miles away, Joy is not out of the realm of a traditional jazz album. The polyrhythms that underpin the music are West African in origin, but nonetheless recognizable to fans of funk, R&B, and postmodern jazz. Nobody was more surprised than Boone, who had come to Ghana to study its musical traditions, when he was invited to sit in with the band at Accra's +233 Jazz Bar & Grill. "I was expecting to hear something like Ethiojazz or Hugh Masekela," he recalls, "but these guys know American jazz inside and out, and play the heck out of it -- but with a definite Ghanaian twist."
Nevertheless, distinctly African influences do make themselves known. For example, while the title track "Joy" was written by the late American saxophonist/flutist Gerry Niewood, Boone and Dey's arrangement addresses the melody with West African cadences and emphasizes the interlocking rhythms within its basic waltz pulse. With "Curtain of Light," the band reaches across the continent toward the Ethiopian musical context of composer Jonovan Cooper (who teaches jazz at Addis Ababa University, where Boone was also in residence). Based on an ancient Ethiopian mode, "Curtain of Light" reaches several almost religiously ecstatic climaxes.
Where the spirit of Ghana truly manifests, however, is in the camaraderie of its musicians and the palpable joy that fulfills the promise of the album's title. "In Ghana, music is participatory, egoless, and woven into the very fabric of existence," says Boone. "People live with joy and make music with joy."
The U.S. Fulbright program seeks to build bridges to peoples across the globe. Taking this role seriously, Boone instigated the "First Annual Ghana National Jazz Workshop Tour," where he and the Ghana Jazz Collective performed and led workshops on improvisation and how jazz is an embodiment of the historic link between the peoples of the U.S. and Ghana. "I saw firsthand the power of music as diplomacy," says Boone. "I hope Joy shines a positive light on Ghana, its historic connection to the U.S., and to the tremendous jazz musicians there. Ghanaians have a love of life, a love of peace, and a culture of welcoming. What a joyous way to live and to make music."
Photography: Yoofi TV/Fotography (band); Benjamin Boone (school); Tamela Ryatt (Boone).
Cover art: "Unending Journeys III" by Ghanaian artist Wiz Kudowor.
Web Site: benjaminboone.net