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Zongo Junction | Thieves

Album review by John Powell

Zongo Junction | Thieves

While the resurgence of afrobeat has been increasingly gaining speed, much of it is influential or integrated. On the other hand you have New York’s Zongo Junction, absolutely old-school afrobeat, characterized by everything from polyrhythmic percussion to two guitars, one on a grooving lick and the other on funky chord rotations. Here, Pavel Kogal-Liakov and Jordan Hyde are on guitar, Leon Ligan-Majekodonmi is on percussion, Aaron Shafer-Haiss is on congas, and Charles Ferguson sits behind the drum kit. Charles is also team leader, as much the backbone as he is the cerebellum. The concept of the band, and their half-hour EP, Thieves, is to keep it classic, between Charles and the 13 other members of Zongo Junction, this chill-ass, relax and groove album is more than recommended.

From the start, the CD version is printed on recycled stock paper with vegetable-based inks, so this is old-school sound with new school thought. There’s the sax set-up, Jonah Parzen-Johnson on bari, Adam Schatz on tenor, and Joe Hartnett on alto. They’re with Kevin Moehringer on trombone and Aaron Rockers on trumpet. Eli Sundelson is on keys and Noah Garabedian is on bass. Said guitar parts and percussion beats characterize each song. The bass, keys, and horns have a lot of fun playing as one unit of melody and take turns soloing.

“Elephant and Mosquito” is a funky 70s soundtrack anthem. The keys ring out underneath a happy-go-lucky bass. The horns layer up and fill in the speakers before the organ has a little, fun solo. Zongo Junction is joined on several tracks, including here, by Leon, (going by Kaleta in the credits), and Melanie Charles. The vocals add more fun than anything else. Kaleta speak-sings halfway through this eight-minute opener. “Big nation/rattle small nations,” the lyrics go. “Mosquito make noise/everybody got style.” Likewise, “Foul Play” is a 70s soundtrack mash-up, molded around bass and drifting over jazz-infused soloing.

The horns on “Oh Why” zoom in like a marching band sped up. The song is built on a trippy “Magic Carpet Ride” type keys melody. Slowly climbing until it pops, the band slinks back into its groove for Kaleta to come in singing, “Oh, why?” over and over while the rest of the band repeats after him. “Too many problems,” it goes; “The rich getting richer. Economy in disarray.” This line is the only clue that Thieves is from the new millennium.

One of the best songs to ever come out of a (look up fourteen person group) is “Madoff Made Off”, with smoothly puzzled together layers ready for the speakers. At the start, the whole band sings, “Madoff/made off/with the money,” a few times over before the groove kicks in. My only complaint is that they never return to this vocal-part, both witty and melodically catchy. Instead, Aaron Shaer-Hais has some solo time on trumpet and his horn buddies filter in after him. This eight-minute song never gets old.

Mixed and mastered by Galaxy Studios, Brooklyn, Thieves sounds excellent. How do you make it so all fourteen players can be heard individually? It’s not easy. Also, the band’s clear pleasure in playing shines through to recording somehow. The album is super fun, full, and complete. Any more songs and the eight-minute songs with little groove variations per song would drag on. The album is best when you need to hit the road to get to party in the valley, or for putting on in the early mornings to start your day. Reccomended for headphones or anything with fat sub.

Bottom line: Zongo Junction makes complexity look easy, all the while teaching a lesson in how to groove.


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