Andrew Oliver Kora Band
Just 4 U (In Music We Trust)
For those who enjoy the sweet sounds of West African music, the Northwest is a mini-haven for talented émigrés from Senegal, Mali, and beyond. Not only is there a small, tight-knit audience in these parts, but there’s a steady stream of players (if you know where to look) who either came from West or Central Africa or went there to study music.
In the case of the Andrew Oliver Kora Band, both are true. Based primarily in Portland, this five-piece got started when Oliver and drummer/percussionist Mark DiFlorio spent a month playing music in Africa. Upon returning home, the duo united with Seattle-based kora player Kane Mathis and began blending jazz with West African folk music.
Their debut album, Just 4 U, is an eclectic mix of 11 soothing West African jams with hints of jazz licks underneath it all. Much of the piano, drumming, and trumpet work is straightforward, but when mixed with the playing of Mathis on the 21-string kora, the music has a unique sonic texture that’s rarely explored. “Malinyea” straddles both genres in separate stanzas, but the two merge harmoniously. “Hidmo,” named after the Eritrean restaurant in Seattle, and “Fanta Groove” are album favorites due to the solid horn playing on each. There’s even a cover of the Congolese pop classic “Bini Na Ngai Na Respect.” All this helps make Just 4 U one of the better world-music releases to come out of the Northwest all year. JONATHAN CUNNINGHAM