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Interview ‘Like walking on water’

Bassist JOE FONDA tells Chris Searle what it's like to play in a quartet of veteran maestros on their latest album Bamako

THE MARVELLOUS OGJB Quartet  is comprised of alto saxophonist Oliver Lake,  cornetist Graham Haynes, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Barry Altschul and for Fonda, the music of OGJB “sings and strolls down the street, swings and dances, swirls around your body like water and grooves with a deep sense of musical history, finding a perfect synergy.”

Playing with such epochal musicians on their new album Bamako is “like walking on water,” he says. “It’s magical.”

The empathy characterising the album’s musicianship is all about “100 per cent listening to each other,” he affirms. “But you’re listening on a subconscious level. You stop listening on the literal level and take your mind out of the equation. We hear the music in the same way as we have done for the 15 years we’ve played together.”

The rhythmic unity he achieves with Altschul is down to his growing up listening to the drummer’s records.

“I lived on that music as a young man. I knew his playing even before I ever played with him.”

There’s a living pulse to Fonda’s bass solo and Haynes’s high-pitched eloquence on the long opener or the song of the earth coming from Lake’s saxophone on every track and he delivers a rhapsodic solo on GS#2 before the levitating fluidity of Altschul’s drum chorus.

The drummer’s tune Just a Simple Song, slow, restrained and beautiful, provides profound scope for reflection on the world today.

Perhaps music such as theirs can begin to provide new exemplars of unity in nations of crumbling democratic traditions and populism, of Trumpery and Johnsonism, in the US and Britain?

“Sure. our music contributes to this struggle,” Fonda responds.

“We are a collective, each of us has equal input. All music that comes from the heart and soul can open and raise the consciousness of humanity — as it has from the beginning of human existence.

“But at this juncture, the Western world needs to be in the streets if we want to stop the right-wing onslaught. The Yellow Vests in France got it right!”

His optimism is certainly the signature sound of Bamako. These four troubadours of freedom, with so much music and so many years between them have produced a memorable record and a provocation to life and action in the world all around us.

Bamako is released on TUM.

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