Haynes has crafted an album rich in contrasts that's never less than cohesive.
Peter Marsh 2002
Though alto saxophonist Kevin Haynes first appeared in the bands of Phil Bent and Courtney Pine, his solo career has been an undeservedly low key affair. This is Groupo Elegua's second album after a seven year gap, and it's been well worth the wait.
Steeped in the West African Yoruba religion (which has been celebrated and practiced by musicians as diverse as Alice Coltrane, Airto Moreira and Carlos Santana), Haynes forges a deeply felt spiritual Afro Cuban jazz vibe on the 8 tracks here. In Yoruba culture, Elegua is the force which makes communication possible between man and the divine, which makes it a pretty good name for a band that sets out to do just that.
With a trio of bata drummers in tow for most of the album, Groupo Elegua lay down earthy, irresistible grooves that avoid latin jazz clich} yet are guaranteed to set the spine twitching. Ranging from the lovely yearning Yoruba chant of the opening "Elegua" through to the delicate balladry of "Tears Rolling Down Her Face" and the closing ritual beatfest of "Medley for Babaluaye", Haynes has crafted an album rich in contrasts that's never less than cohesive. Even the use of narratives on two tracks sounds unforced, sitting within the music rather than sounding superimposed.
The leader's lithe alto occasionally recalls Steve Coleman (whose own Sign and the Seal album explored roughly similar spiritual territory), but where Coleman's diamond hard rhythmic interrogations can be unforgiving over a long haul, Haynes is a more emotionally charged, communicative player. The mostly modal settings give his questing solo flights plenty of space. Pianist Bennet Mclean is both a sensitive group player and a gifted soloist (though the sound of his digital piano is a little thin); his improvisations are vibrant, percussive flashes of colour. On the superb "Egun" he provides shifting, foggy atmospherics behind a beautifully judged Haynes solo, full of trillsand slurs before launching into a McCoy Tyner-esque improvisation of colourful chordal splashes and tumbling runs. Bassist Nevil Malcom provides warm, resonant lines and drummer Davide Giovanni pulls off the difficult task of injecting jazz swing over the intricate networks of bata beats.
A deep, rewarding listen from a band who are probably even better heard in the flesh. Very fine indeed.