by Jeff Tamarkin
Published in Global Rhythm Magazine, September 2004
Reprinted in Jumbie Journal, October 2004 Issue
On paper it looks like a gimmick: a band in search of the commonalities between American jazz, West African percussion and Appalachian string band music--with a pinch of Cuban son. In practice, it's anything but a joke: Imaginary Homeland's Jump For George not only works but makes the connections seem obvious.
Imaginary Homeland is a quartet founded by worldly saxophonist David Rogers. Mark Stone provides the myriad percussive colorations, Marlene Rice the snazzy violin and Matt Pavolka the freewheeling acoustic bass. Rogers comes to the music, which sways easily from tightly composed to liberally improvised, confident with knowledge and experience.
Although born in Missouri, he spent part of his childhood living in Southeast Asia and put in time in New York as well, absorbing the city's cultural overload, particularly jazz. Rogers lived in Ghana during part of his college years, then returned for two years to study the talking drum with master drummer Dolsi-naa Abubakari Lunna, as well as the Ghanaian xylophone and one-stringed fiddle. Rogers formed Imaginary Homeland, as well as the Jumbie label-set up to promote music rooted in world traditions-upon his return to the U.S.
(Jumbie is also, says Rogers, "linking back to the traditions our artists draw on, by sponsoring a new music festival in rural Ghana, and raising money to preserve the 800-year-old Sossa Balla, the historic xylophone of African emperor Sundiata.")
The synthesis of jazz and world music is nothing new, of course, but Imaginary Homeland, by granting equal love to both, smears the lines seamlessly and unconscientiously. Rogers' pieces could only have been conjured via one thoroughly invested in the multiple traditions being considered-think Coltrane's relationship to Indian music and its spiritual birthplace as a reference point.
Rogers is an inventive and charismatic saxist, and as a bandleader he's savvy enough to make optimal use of what he's got: that's not a mere violin Rice is sawing in the opening track, "Kanawha Girl"; it's bona fide crazy-ass African hillbilly fiddle. When Rogers and Stone duel it out on lunndogo talking drums in their "Travelogue," you might as well be in the heart of an alternative African universe's own Bonnaroo jam-band land. "The World Is Not Your Home," the epic, 12-minute album-closer, is both showpiece and statement of purpose, a humble, much-needed reminder that we're only visiting this unlikely existence.
Copyright 2004, Global Rhythm
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"Jump for George" by Imaginary Homeland