1. Suite For Ogbuefi - I
2. Suite For Ogbuefi - II
3. Suite For Ogbuefi - III
11. Road to Abuja
Composed by : Sly5thAve
Produced by: Brad Williams
Recorded by: Aaron Nevezie at The Bunker Studio
Mixed by: John Davis at The Bunker Studio
Assistant Engineer: Jacub Bergson
Mastered by: Scott Hull at MasterDisk
Ross Pederson- Drums
Daniel Foose- Bass
Hajime Yshida- Electric Guitar
Keita Ogawa- Percussion
Jay Jennings- Trumpet
Brad Williams- Acoustic Guitar (7,10)
Cory Henry- Piano and Wurlitzer (1,2,3,10)
Phil Lassiter- Trumpet (7)
John Leadbetter- Flute (5,7)
Zach Brock- Violin (6,10)
Denitia Odigie- Voice (9)
DEDICATED TO MY FAMILY
Sly5thAve (aka Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II)
Any debut CD by an emerging jazz artist is a major event in the life of that artist. This is the time when the world has a chance to focus on an individual's expressive capabilities and potential. Jazz being in part about constant change, evolution, growth, and renewal, one can look deep into the pores of the soul of the human being behind the music and hopefully find something profound, joyous, wonderful, and enlightening. As with life, Jazz music is random and organized and the ying and yang of these two elements creates the difference between something happening and exciting and something dreadfully moribund. The ideal world of Jazz is to bring a balance between what the artist has to say from a deep perspective and what the listener has to hear from the compilation of their listening experiences. If there is parity between the two sides, then it is due to the subtle power of the music to enhance the imagination of the listener and said listeners willingness to give a new artist a chance.
The CD you have before you, AKUMA, is the debut CD of Sly5thAve (aka Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II). This release is a major event in his life. The songs are in focus with what he wants to define as his entry into the world of Jazz Discourse and Jazz History. He is confident that this music expresses not only what he can do but what he will be able to do as he is planting seeds into the Earth that will change, evolve, grow, and renew itself by nature and intellect. You can hear his soul bared before mankind, the profundity of his Nigerian roots and this relationship to the essence of Jazz music, that of being part of the African Diaspora of sound that permeates the heart of the music. Beneath the symptomatic aspects of Jazz music that belies his formal music training there is a overriding sound of Joy that emerges from the textures and melodies of this CD. And by understanding Sly's interior construction the listener will ocme away from this recording wonderfully enlightened.
The music is stunningly beautiful, filled with mystery, exoticism, and romance that belies Sly's age (early 20's). There is a maturity of ideas, a lack of excess, no hint of the bondage of nostalgia and a reliance on the simple aspects of direct communication to create the modus operandi. Rarely is a debut CD an example of patience and timing. AKUMA displays the best aspects of Jazz, Funk, Global, and Soul music melded into a singular voice, nothing out of place or unnatural. Sly uses orchestration in a way that makes the ensembles sound much larger than they are and showcasing the variety of sounds the band can get. The compositions are designed to expose only the best elements of the individual musicians on the recording and there is a communication between them that comes from a shared social music experience and a generational bond. His solos are the essence of "Soul Music". Every note has a unique "message". Sly is working with musicians he knows and knows what they can or can't do. The music is thus pared daown to the essentials to allow for maximum emotionalism but arranged to sustain maximum interest. Every musician on this recording is taking chances, going for broke but within the direction of Sly as the music pinpoints the best of this aspect and exploits in a tasteful and ultimately satisfying recording.
I hesitate to single out any particular track as this would tend to direct the listener to my tastes and discretion so I have avoided analysis. But i will "point out" a unique sound texture on Deme using the voice, guitar, trumpet, and tenor sax. And Deme is for the most part a guitar feature, as this is one of the amazing aspects of Sly, his openness and desire to share the music with his friends and compatriots, to be the consummate host.
AKUMA is such a strong debut CD that one can only wonder what direction Sly will undertake on his future projects. Sly's voice is one for the ages, a sound that has no limitaion, a mind that has many levels of imagination and a heart as wide and large as the continent of Africa.
The Adventure has Begun!
Saxophonist Sylvester Onyejiaka, Sly5thAve, shows he is a sophisticated composer with a promising future on his debut disc, Akuma. Originally from Austin, Texas, and now based in New York, Onyejiaka has toured with Prince and the New Power Generation and currently backs Prince alumna, vocalist Liv Warfield. Here he steps out as a leader, pulling together a sextet with strong contributions from guests like violinist Zach Brock and vocalist Denitia Odigie.
The music is written with care and played with gusto. Akuma starts off with the three-part “Suite For Ogbuefi,” and it feels more suited to a concert hall—though you might expect to find a guy named Sly5thAve in a small, bawdy club. (Which isn’t to say that the emerging “jazzbro” crowd won’t go crazy for this release; but the songs seem to want more of a suit-and-tie presentation.)
The Akuma project began two years ago, when the saxophonist traveled to Nigeria to explore his African roots. On the album, he has fused those influences with contemporary jazz, and the songs reflect a mix of complexity and ebullience. There’s a lot of energy here, as if the album was recorded live, with the band feeding off a voracious crowd. There are even moments where one might expect to hear joyful shouts from the audience—though they never bubble up.
Onyejiaka’s compositional strengths are so expansive, and the songs so large and rich, that his own playing is subdued in comparison. This isn’t to say the man doesn’t have chops. Yet for a guy so talented, he has focused his attention on the work as a whole, where he functions more like an accent color in the palate, as opposed to filling up every negative space like some other young artists might do on their debuts. It’s truly something to be admired.
While Onyejiaka gives the compositions space, Trumpeter Jay Jennings—known for his work with the Grammy award-winning group Snarky Puppy as well as keyboardist Jesse Fischer—grabs the listener’s attention every time he appears. He’s dynamic and captivating, and makes the compositions pop. Brock, known prominently for his recent work with bassist Stanley Clarke, provides a solo in the middle of “Bach” that reaches to such dizzying heights, it seems like he has vibrated out of the song altogether—until the head appears again. But with so much going in each composition, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for each individual soloist to shine. Fortunately, Onyejiaka has created a cohesive group sound, setting the bar stupendously high for each player.
—Anthony Dean-Harris (DownBeat)