The Embassadors - "Wimbo Wa Wana" (Healing the Music)
Healing the Music is a testament to the courage, patience and discipline of reed player and producer Hayden Chisholm, the man at the core of the amorphous Embassadors. After a dozen years of touring the globe, gladhanding the sharpest players he could find, and creating music for collaborations and art installations, Chisholm wanted to crystallize the essence of his experience in one record. Thus, Healing the Music has the sweep, heft and vision of a lot of people’s entire discographies. Like the music of Chisholm’s collaborator Burnt Friedman, it mixes loping dub reggae, old-fashioned melodic jazz and electronic dissonance without a hint of the dilettante’s careless arrogance. Rather, every moment feels as though it’s the result of a dozen year’s deliberation. The record doesn’t amuse with its eclecticism; it hypnotizes with its carefully paced spell.
Like his fellow German Friedman, Chisholm hails from an open landscape, and creates something that can sometimes sound like jazz, but it’s utterly free of American jazzbo specialization and dogma. Viola player Gareth Lubbe, cellist Claudio Bohorquez, bassist Michael Penman, drummer Jochen Rueckert and trombonist Nils Wogram all have “chops” to spare, but no one shows off, ever. Everyone meditates, calmly and carefully, on each of 10 central hooks. If Healing the Music isn’t a straight-up pop platter, it’s an electro-jazz platter with pop continuity. The congruent understanding of reggae is gravy.
And, like any good pop record, Healing the Music has its human center, a voice with passion and despair that scales the language barrier. In Kenyan singer Michel Ongaru, Chisholm has found his Cee-Lo. Ongaru translates Chisholm’s lyrics into Swahili (a notoriously treacherous conversion), so even those who speak that evocative, vowel-intensive language may have to draw their own constellations. But the skill and soul shine right across the equator. There’s a certain kind of triumphant anguish that works more through sound than language, and Swahili has a particularly gripping vocab for it.
For a rather far-fetched point of comparison, certain passages of Healing the Music recall Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch soundtracks. For what it’s worth.