September 1998

Olu Dara - In The World: From Natchez to New York
Atlantic 83077-2
Released: 1998
HDCD Encoded

by Jay Piriz

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]This first recording project from Olu Dara is a complex mixture of Mississippi delta blues, Caribbean calypso, Louisiana Cajun, Afro-Cuban pop and some straight-ahead jazz. Dara is a cornetist turned ax-man, and his scratchy voice has a vague but familiar resemblance to the late, great Louis Armstrong’s. In the 1970s, Dara blew the cornet at The Tin Palace on New York's Lower East Side. But it was Art Blakey who inspired and encouraged Dara to break with tradition and pursue his dream to do his own thing. There is no doubt when you listen to the music and lyrics on this recording that Dara is first and foremost a bluesman. "Harlem Country Girl" is a horn tribute in which the amalgamated stylings of numerous great horn players can be heard, including the great Cuban-born Arturo Sandoval, and Miles Davis.

To be sure, this disc is not world music. There is too much Deep South in the soup. This music is the manifestation of a lifetime of experience in America. I suspect at many times, the experience was hard and painful. At other times it was preciously joyful and sweet. A real blues artists' life, it is said, is never easy. The zoot suit-esque quality of "Bubber (If Only)" hearkens Cotton Club days gone by. Guest vocalist Mayanna Lee's coquettish voice is breathtaking when she speaks the lyrics "If only/You could feel/With my heart." On "Okra," the first song on the disc, Dara's voice is reminiscent of the incomparable Harry Belafonte. His casual, free-spirited style imparts a tropical-island feel that is supported by the rhythmic cacophony of guitars, percussion, horns, organ and female background singers. By contrast, the closing song, "Kiane," is an introspective bayou lullaby. The lyrics talk about a mother leaving her child and perhaps never returning.

The sonic character of this HDCD recording is excellent. Both the lower and upper limits of the frequency extremes are well extended and with very good resolution. The bottom limit is tight without any mushiness or excessive, artificial bass boominess sometimes encountered with HDCD-encoded discs. The highs are smoothly extended. The highest notes from Dara's cornet shimmer and cut with a natural incisiveness. In my system, there was no objectionable sharpness or fatigue coefficient.

Olu Dara scores a winner with this debut recording. The music is a capsule of the life experiences of a musician who has tasted much fruit in the garden -- some sweet, some bitter. On In The World, the musical performances are rock-solid and the recording quality is far above average.