No-one does the pan-African roots-pop thing quite as well as Cheikh Lô, do they? This is only the fourth international release from Burkina Faso-born Senegalese in the decade and a half that he’s been operating, but the wait is once again rewarded by an album replete with melody and supple rhythms and which, like its three predecessors, has very much its own distinctive musical imprint.
With Lô now into his sixth decade, Jamm’s overarching outlook is one of maturity and repose, allying a soulful, slightly introspective mood to the customary rhythmic snap of earlier releases. This more considered, nostalgic mode is reflected in covers of decades-old Latin-tinged tunes by Bembeya Jazz and Amadou Balake, and a loose, Orchestra Baobab-style treatment of the Spanish-language Seyni, the first song Lô ever sang in public. Pee Wee Ellis stamps his authoritative tenor sax on this and other tracks. It’s deep and bluesy on the ballad Sankara, sharply focused in solo on Bourama and underpins the circular guitar melodies on the delightfully poppy Il N’est Jamais Trop Tard . And Cheikh’s voice sounds as good as ever, accentuated perhaps by the downbeat nature of much of the material. There’s not quite as much of the scat singing and jolting Wolof diction of the past, which gives more rein to the smoke-aged abrasions on his otherwise satin-smooth tonal timbre. You can almost smell the plumes as he reaches for the warbly falsetto on the title track, and there’s something satisfyingly Salif about the catch in his throat on Sankara.
So a more mature, reflective Cheikh then, but Jamm’s none the worse for that. And for all the reworking of old tunes and balladry there’s plenty enough in the way of positive, upbeat fare too. Dieuf Dieul – what might be called a typical Cheikh Baye Fall praise song, with its shuffling mbalax-lite rhythm punctuated by the clack of the sabar drum, joyful praise vocals and hearty sax breaks - is possibly the highlight of an album that might be low on truly standout moments but which is a rare thing these days, an album that is consistently listenable from start to finish and a worthy addition to an already impressive canon of work.