Album Review: ¿Que Vola? – ¿Que Vola? [Nø Førmat!; 25th January 2019]

A brassy, ritualistic sound from a band making a cross-cultural union. ¿Que Vola? is a new group, experimenting with bop-style horns over a foundation of Cuban Santeria rumba groove. Put together by jazz trombonist Fidel Fourneyron, with the help of double-bassist Thibaud Soulas, the French jazz collaborative enrols three of Havana’s revered percussionists, Barbaro Crespo Richard, Ramon Tamayo Martinez and Adonis Panter Calderon.

Santeria is a blended religion, passed down through word of mouth, which has roots in both Yoruba and Catholic beliefs. Music is their spiritual language, and worshippers use chants, drumming and dance to communicate to the gods. These deities are then said to provide guidance through an outpouring of frenetic energy to one or more members of the congregation. Fourneyron set out to reimagine this sacred music in a jazz context, using brass as the main voice.

Given the origins of this music, you might expect the whole production to have more wild abandonment and other-worldly connection. There are a few moments throughout the album, and one of the most emotionally dialled-up tracks is the beautiful self-titled Afro-Cuban number, ‘¿Que Vola?’. The Rhodes Fender takes the lead with a sombre brooding interpretation of the piece as the punctuated horns play out the collective voice you could imagine belonging to the masses. The song builds up to a high energy release of tension as the band finally let out steam.

The ritualistic underpinning of the Bata drums is hypnotic and sophisticated. The first release from the album, ‘Calle Luz’, leaves a lot of space from which to appreciate the sparring between the different Bata voices and Congas. To the uninitiated ear, this may sound like a descent into a form of tidy chaos, but it is impossible to not appreciate the virtuosic playing from the Cuban foundation. On multiple listens, you will find yourself connecting deeper to the syncopated rhythms.

The recording starts with a prologue called ‘Kabiosile’, a greeting to Changó, the god of lightning and thunder, one of the most feared and angry deities. It is a powerfully percussive number as the performers set their intention, showing both strength and respect, with soaring horn lines and loud drums. The album later closes with a track called ‘Resistir’, meaning resist. This song switches between Cuban and jazz, forceful and soft, with constant tugging throughout.

From start to finish, this album feels a little too familiar, and the band have not managed to create anything that feels new. It does tickle you with the taste for exploration, and ultimately ¿Que Vola? tells a heart-warming story of togetherness and connection.