Album review: Kevin Haynes Grupo Elegua, ‘Ajo Se Po’

Buy Ajo Se Po on Bandcamp; listen on Youtube and Spotify

Published in the September 2020 issue of Jazzwise

Ajo Se Po | Kevin Haynes Grupo Elegua
Image courtesy of Kevin Haynes

Grupo Elegua, led by alto saxophonist and percussionist Kevin Haynes, released its third album, Ajo Se Po, in June. The album’s Yoruban title translates to ‘a journey’ or ‘a gathering’, which is appropriate as on this release Haynes guides the listener across a tapestry of jazz, West African, and Cuban sounds. Haynes is in turn led by Orisas, the Yoruban deities he polythrhymically praises with Cuban bata drumming in each track.

Haynes’ raspy opening incantation acknowledges the journey, ushering his saxophone’s ascent over the 12/8 time that affords expansive, animate melodies reflective of “spiritual activation and divination.” The journey of the mind and the self is not lacking the physical. In ‘Oshogbo’, Haynes’ slinking saxophone transports us to the Nigerian state, one of several destinations he travelled to develop his sound, energy, and spirit beyond jazz.

Ajo Se Po does not necessarily reach a specific destination, but bears a “message of everyone’s potential,” and of the possibility of “unity once they know themselves.” Of the overall sound, Haynes said “the domination of it is African,” yet the plucky kora and Mandinka folk choruses so naturally underpin Haynes’ hard bop sax melodies, Neville Malcolm’s creeping basslines, and Jonathan Idiagbona’s capitulating piano, the album inadvertently testifies to jazz’s origins from that continent, and makes the music written 12 years ago difficult to date and impossible to not move to.

Kevin Haynes Grupo Elegua Ajo Se Po Jazz Re:freshed (DL) Kevin Haynes (s, bata drums, v), Ronald Thomas (bata drums, bv), Bill Bland (bata drums, bv), Jonathan Idiagbona (p), Diabel Cissohko (Kora, v), Neville Malcolm (b), Shane Forbes (d), Lanre Olafia Olemuyiwa (narration), Illam Jalal and Paula Allen (bv). Rec. date not stated