Kenya native and UK based multi-instrumentalist Vonji Uzele has a steadily growing discography featuring his varied talents and the latest release in his career, Ruach, is a thirteen track outing featuring the talents of guitarist Garry Millhouse, saxophonist Carmine Manfredi, and drummer Martin Donovan. Producer Mat Diamond has done an exemplary job of bringing outstanding sonic clarity to this often challenging music and his influence clearly strikes up considerable chemistry with Vonji and his musical collaborators. There are some strong influences circulating through this collection, but Vonji has a wholly individual sound filtered through those colors and no one can accuse him of lapsing into self-indulgence and imitation. This isn’t music pandering for commercial attention; instead, Vonji is working in a realm all his own and the iconoclastic slant he brings to this work will leave a lasting effect on any music devotee. Ruach is thirteen songs with a lot of punch and musical variation that few artists, at any level, can readily match.
The album opener “Out of the Mire” begins with intensely rhythmic percussion, acoustic instrumentation, and sharply angular guitar work gaining power as it progresses. It’s an instrumental track, but there are choral voices employed that sweeten the often fiery performance. The track is relatively short, but it makes maximum impact within less than three minutes. The terse and intensely melodic guitar opening “Skin Deep” is soon joined by a more lyrical lead guitar snaking over the top and segues into some impressive flourishes. The vocal contributions to the song have a nicely exhortative quality and the chorus underlines those elements without ever pushing too hard. It’s hard to resist the emphatic passion coming from every passage of this song. The powerful bass playing in this song is given a prominent position in the mix and works quite well with the lead guitar and rhythm section. “Gold Rush” has a much more straight ahead rock and roll attack and foregoes the experimental edge we’ve encountered on the album thus far. Vonji’s vocals veer from an impassioned bellow to snarling raucousness.
“Amnesia” has a decidedly dream-like, laid back vibe vaguely reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s work, sans guitar pyrotechnics. Vonji and his collaborators frame the echo-laden guitar work in imaginative ways and the song gradually sharpens its experimental edge as it progresses. One of the album’s longer songs, “Vox Populi” begins with some sternum rattling bass moving at a leaden, deliberate pace and accompanied by understated drumming. The introduction of a growling sax line darkens the texture some, but Vonji’s clear vocal pushes back against that darkness and balances it nicely. There’s some particularly strong guitar work in the song’s second half and the vocal arrangement serves the track quite well throughout. In some ways, Vonji and his collaborators are reminiscent of The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s prime work and few comparisons could be better. This is a powerful musical release on every level and, while it has little commercial appeal, it hits home with those who love music as art.
9 out of 10 stars