Zoh Amba featuring William Parker and Francisco Mela “O Life, O Light Vol. 1”

Zoh Amba has a knack for taking a memorable melody and scorching it before breaking it into granular bits. Joined by two luminaries in William Parker and Francisco Mela, O Life, O Light Vol. 1 sings in the crisp midnight air, sent out like lost prayers searching for a slab of concrete to sculpt into a cathedral. 

From the word go, Amba’s trio starts ripping through the seams, tearing down foundations to build something new from the familiar ashes. “Mother’s Hymn” takes an introspective edge. Amba’s saxophone billows outward, shining like a beacon in pure darkness while Parker’s bowed bass expressions spread through the underground with a simmering compulsion. Amba and Parker dance in slow, pointed gestures before Mela finally pushes everyone into a higher gear. Rhythmic interplay between the bounding bassline and trenchant percussion opens countless places where the blistering, pensive horn runs twist into mountains. The energy on “Mother’s Hymn” is electric.

While there’s a familiarity to the silhouettes on O Life, O Light Vol. 1, the shaded spaces between the lines elevate these pieces. Amba opts for a flute on the contemplative whimsy of “Mountains in the Predawn Light.” Immediately the title sends our minds into new worlds, images popping in at lightspeed imagining blissful landscapes. Mela and Parker slow us down, though, pulling back with quizzical grooves that slide beneath the fluttering animations of Amba’s flute. There’s something so forward-looking to this piece – the whole album, really – that shines even brighter because it channels a timeless spirit.

On the title track and miniature closer “Satya,” the sonic fire blasts from all angles. All three get their moment in the front with Parker’s passages self-contained and bouncing through the spectral field and Mela throwing out frenetic arrows. Urgency runs through “O Life, O Light” until the final quiet rumbles. “Satya” is compact and light but no less fiery. These ancient lullabies are turned into a fizzing electric field, buoyed by the fuel of a thousand years of blood. Amba, Mela, and Parker have created free-flowing folk music for a new era.

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