I’m not terribly fond of the L.A. Times, home to idiot crit Robert Hilburn as well as a Republican hotbed of political nonsense (which is why it ousted Robert Reich, who is what Noam Chomsky would term a "soft Republican"), but I hafta admit the rag kinda nailed it when citing Richard Bona as “an artist with Jaco Pastorius’ virtuosity, George Benson’s vocal fluidity, Joao Gilberto’s sense of song and harmony, all mixed up with African culture”. Myself, I’d lean heavily into the Gilberto reference and add a bit of Joseph Shabalala and Milton Nascimento along with other references, but Bona’s fans prefer to praise him as “the African Sting”, and that epithet is apt as well, considering the melting pot of African, latino, and other admixtures well mixed in his repertoire.
Heritage is just that, a statement of revered elder musical ways freshened into a killer set of hybridizations. In “Jokoh Jokoh”, we find not only African and Cubano modes but also cooler than cool ranchero and changui. Fans of Santana will find much to enthuse over in the percussion-heavy “Cubaneando”, more reminiscent of later era Carlitos than the earlier sonics but just as pregnant with hypnotic percussives (Roberto and Luisito Quintero, who invest much into Bona’s compositions). One of my favorite cuts is “Essewe Ya Monique” wherein Bona displays his acumen on the bass guitar, as elastic and tasty as Percy Jones (Brand X). A stripped down short cut, it deliciously exhibits a good deal of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and I wish to hell the track had gone on for a good deal longer.
Rey Alejandre and Dennis Hernandez handle the brass chores impeccably while Osmany Paredes dances a piano in and out of the bars and measures, Bona throwing in everything else (bass, guitars, elec. sitar, keyboards, perc., and of course vocals). I suspect that management boyz Adam Fell and Thomas Duport have much influence behind the scenes, as they're a part of the Quincy Jones team, and…well, if you’re tied in to Da Quince, you’re world-class. Bona’s music is definitely of that ilk, and I doubt he could locate better or more sympathetic management and everything that flows from it. Kinda nice: the biz element helping things rather than monkey-wrenching ‘em, as is too often the case.
There aren’t a whole lot of solos, the album devoted to songs qua songs rather than partitioned chops, but when they appear, they’re as colorful as the tunes themselves, brief interludes accentuating the flow of the entirety. And flow is everything here, a river of rhythm that takes the listener from one end of the CD to the other, the harmony vocals often a large element in the process. By the time the disc winds down, you, too, will be making your own comparisons, and it won't matter whether it's to Sting or Nascimento or anyone (and, um, I'll toss Taj Mahal and Eric Bibb in there as well) because Richard Bona has his ears wide open, his hands busy, and his aesthetics firmly planted globally.