Cannonball Adderley Quintet
Accent On Africa
Harboring an assortment of saxophones and uniting it with the exotic aura of bongos, congas and djembes, Accent On Africa by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet is one of the best-known artifacts of serration instead of separation. Recorded in 1968 in San Francisco and released in the same year on Capitol Records, the eight tracks serve as nods towards the rise of African music and the problems that such a generic term carries with it. Bandleader and saxophonist Julian Edwin Adderley (1928–1975) aka Cannonball Adderley brings in two unique compositions. Together with his brother and cornetist Nathaniel »Nat« Adderley (1931–2000) and three additional – curiously unmentioned – (session) musicians, Accent On Africa really comes to life due to its additional ingredients such as the aforementioned drums, cautious and almost unnoticeable Funk guitars and a golden piano whose mellow aura is conducive to the dual environment.
Oscillating between saffron-colored steppes and San Francisco’s cityscape, the quintet is situated in the versatile amalgamation of styles and traditions such as Dixieland, show tune pericarps, swinging numbers and the joyous pomposity of a lucent Sunday. The different ways of playing the saxophones are equally luring, making the gyration between the different worlds all the more intriguing. And yet Accent On Africa isn’t a convulsive mess at the end of the day: the strata and sinews work well together, an additional choir augments both the African and North American sentiment, and best of all, the melodies and backing chords are stirring and memorable, serving as counterpoints to Cannonball Adderley’s sometimes labyrinthine solos. Here’s a closer look at a classic sparkler.
Merging the freedom of the steppe with a sun-lit glaze of serene happiness, the opener Ndo Lima makes for a great – and exotic – start to Cannonball Adderley’s eclectic record. Originally envisioned by Josef Zawinul, the composition comes to life here via Nat Adderley’s darkly droning oboe-like cornet which is then accompanied by a complexion of bongos and congas before the sun rises: multilayered brass instruments, angelic female chants, moments of contemplation and the resurrection of textural bursts make Ndo Lima a piece where the parts compliment each other perfectly. Even the piano chords are eminently silky in lieu of being staggering. The soft echo of Cannonball Adderley’s saxes augments the feeling of capaciousness, with the brass fanfares evoking the exhilarative vibe of a Sunday afternoon.
Adderley’s own Hamba Nami follows suit but resides in swinging tides. The afternoon mood is maintained and nurtured via towering solos over warm-hearted guitar-accentuated piano base frames whose conga percussion rounds off this spirited leeway lariat that’s swung in the megacity. While Caiphus Semenya’s Khutsana makes the cut and serves as a twofold rhythm-changing oasis which transforms from its elegiac matutinal morphogenesis into a bustling bongo-driven snake charmer serenade, Wes Montgomery’s Up And At It rounds off side A with the return to a brass fest taking place in a concrete jungle: screeching saxes, aureate pianos, effervescent shouts and bongo blebs constitute an uplifting flow.
Side B opens with another composition by Caiphus Semenya, the flamboyantly bright Gumba Gumba. Running for five and a half minutes, it is based on main melodies that are open to scrutiny. In tandem with the brass blasts and good-natured piano accompaniment, this midtempo amber is a great tune. Even though the band has quite a bit of time to inject sophisticated solos, their potentially alienating presence is expelled in a mercilessly uplifting and accessible get-together. Cannonball Adderley adds a second song from his own feather to the roster, the chlorotic moxie Marabi and its fast-paced rotatory alto saxophone spirals which gyre around choir-backed bongo coppices loaded with the gleeful alteration of the jungle. The simultaneity of the big city with intact jungles is only coincidental at best, but the lure of the bongo is a wonderfully green marker of that verdured non-horticultural place.
David Axelrod’s Gunjah is next, a gem of a halide which launches with an Ambient core of laid-back bongos and congas, suntrap saxes and rufescent backing horns. Gospel-like wordless vocals eventually lead to the eruptive force in the final minute where screeching saxes and trumpets caulk the formerly easygoing quiescence. The actual way to – and preparation of – this seething cauldron, however, is what makes Gunjah so gorgeous and all-important. Lehadima by H.B. Barnum and Rick Holmes then finishes the album with a beefy fast-paced ride through the prairie. Galloping bongos, sizzling hi-hats, friendly choirs and bursting show tune Saturdayisms make for a gorgeous endpoint whose African spirit lives on in Cannonball Adderley’s polyfaceted solo.
Accent On Africa is an honest album when it comes to the well-crowded and more often than not dubious field of so-called African music, a concept that is willfully accepted and only disputed when it is contrasted with the synthetic term of North-American music. Naturally we all know about the latter, a never-ending pool of styles, genres, instruments, happenstances. African music is equally versatile, perhaps even more so, preceding the modern concept of genres by a wide margin. But since most people cannot even name eight African states, concepts of subsumption such as African music arise. Thoughts like these are spoiling the fun and are nowhere to be found in the Exotica context, but this synopsis notwithstanding, Accent On Africa works even on the level of stern music historians.
The focus on Africa within the boundaries of the album is just that: a quota, sliver and slice, a tributary at best. In addressing this feature in the title already, the Cannonball Adderley Quartet willfully succumbs to the Occidental street marches and comes up with a superimposition of simultaneous images: the African steppes and green copses conflate with the North American skyscraper valleys and concrete jungles. The omnipresence of the bongos is as important a key to this maintenance as the incidental tonality of the brass sinews – especially so in Gunjah and Ndo Lima – and the friendly aura of the choir. Accent On Africa is upbeat and busy most of the time, so it is all the more refreshing when there are avulsions leading to sheltered places. The just mentioned Gunjah is the pinnacle in this regard, what with its mellow circumambience turning into a fusillade of mirth. Oscillating between Afrobeat and soulful Sunday Jazz, Accent On Africa is a remunerative artifact for Exotica fans as well. Available on vinyl, CD, download and streaming services.
Exotica Review 448: Cannonball Adderley – Accent On Africa (1968). Originally published on Aug. 28, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.