Max Wild
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Max Wild

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
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Creating a successful fusion of pop jazz and rootsy African music is tricky. The brisk, clean sophistication and polish of the former is not always an easy fit with the rough edges and unbridled spirit of the latter. Max Wild, a young saxophonist and composer whose life has made homes for him in Harare, Berlin and New York, takes on this challenge with determination, chops and unwavering commitment, and the result is a rather remarkable recording. Tamba means roughly “to play” in Shona, the main language in Zimbabwe where Wild received his initial musical education. And play he does, whether taking a freewheeling solo on the album’s expansive title track, or making a skilled journey from a keyboard-driven mbira groove—reminiscent of vintage Thomas Mapfumo—to bouncy pop—reminiscent of Spyra Gyra—on “Tinomutenda.”

Wild shares the credit here with a number of important collaborators, most notably Sam Mtukudzi, son of the Zimbabwean music legend, Oliver Mtukudzi. Wild and the young Mtukudzi forged a friendship and a fruitful musical alliance. Mtukudzi sings with plaintive force on five of these ten tracks, and shares composing credits on seven. There’s no mistaking the affection, chemistry and shared vision between these two young artists—all of which makes it that much more tragic, that Sam Mtukudzi was killed in a car accident in Zimbabwe just months before Tamba was released. He was 21 years old. Transcending heartbreak through music of hope and uplift was a already theme in this music before this personal tragedy struck. The social and political tragedy that marks Zimbabwe’s recent history is an unspoken but unavoidable subtext here. Mtukudzi’s shocking death only adds to the melancholy undertones within these warm, yearning compositions.

Another new-generation force in Zimbabwean music, Chiwoniso, also contributes to Tamba, adding layers of vocal to the opening track, “Kwatinobva,” a collaborative composition by her and Sam Mutukudzi. Chiwoniso also sings gorgeously on “Kuvakidzana,” a track that opens in mbira mode (the mbira played by inimitable American music maverick Chris Berry) and morphs into a buoyant gospel anthem. The groovy optimism of African gospel music emerges elsewhere too, as on “Odun De,” featuring Mtududzi and vocalist Alicia Olatuja. There’s also a cover of an Oliver Mtukudzi classic, “Ndakuvara,” with Sam poignantly channeling his father in a snappy new arrangement.

Throughout, Wild’s sunny alto sax wheedles and brays, working in just enough heady jazz harmony to stretch the formula without breaking it. In the end, Tamba may be too squeaky clean and clever to satisfy roots music diehards, but it shows persuasive understanding of all its sources, from the squirrely rhythms of Zimbabwean traditional music to the neat arranging tricks of jazz fusion. This is passionate, skilled work by a team of young artists for whom genre boundaries seem made to be broken. Wild, with his multi-national background and broad musical vocabulary announces himself as a willing and able contributor to the future of African music in our globalized world.

Contributed by: Banning Eyre for www.afropop.org - Afropop.org


Alto saxophonist Max Wild has not so much hit on a formulaic brand of Afro-beat songs as he is exploring different ways to phrase them. Hovering on the edge without teetering over the brink, Wild's angular and tart sweet horn is the foundation for his bandmates to scurry around, combining contemporary jazz with village tribal and joy-filled dance music not too far removed from Nigerian highlife -- think King Sunny Ade meets a subdued Dudu Pukwana. Vocals of Sam Mtukudzi dominate most of the songs, and he's quite effusive in delivering an African message of salvation, emancipation, and exuberance. Though not the only vocal source, Mtukudzi is joined by Chiwoniso and Alicia Olatuja on select tracks, and the ladies lead on select tracks. Keyboardist Soren Moller is also a distinct force, as is guitarist Jesse Lewis on the rhythmic and melodic end of things. The angular funk of "Kwatinobva" sets a tone for the rest of the program, steeped in typical guitar/horn-based call and response with the singers, while polyrhythms feed the fire of "Kuvakidzana" with a mbira/thumb piano component. There's straight, beat-oriented music, some pop-styled tunes, spiritual material, and even a few lyrics sung in English. Closest to home, wood whistles or a recorder employed by Wild identifies "In Your World," a pretty piece featuring layers of sound and a somewhat minimalist approach. Help from ObliqSound stablemate bassists Michael Olatuja (electric) and Massimo Biolcati (upright acoustic) keep the music anchored in a rhythm & blues base, solidly rooted in Afro-centric trans-continentalism. Wild's distinctive sax is certainly the straw that stirs this potentate, a session loaded to the brim with good feelings and a whole lot of fun. - All Music Guide


Africa is a vast continent, rich with cultures and languages that are quite complex to the outsider. Its music is just as diverse, with every country having characteristics that are different from one another, indigenous in spirit but also sharing some of its many outside influences. Max Wild takes in his outsider mentality and brings it within the heart of African to create Tamba (Obliqsound).

The music is very happy and proud, and in this case it’s a mixture of jazz with pop. It is not as heavy or funky as Fela Kuti, one might argue that it may sound like tourist/resort music, or “ready made for Disney” but that would be avoiding the power of the pride of the country they sing about. It is accessible, and with songs like “Kuvakidzana” and “Rudo Rwako” you may reminisce about the first time you were exposed to African music, with a team of vocalists who sing for love, honor, pride, and simply for being. While tracks such as “Voice”, “Butterfly”, and “In Your World” may be easier for the Western tongue to say, they do not lose any of the impact these musicians and singers offer, and Wild is able to bring forth the elegance of these songs while gluing them together with his saxophone work. - This Is Book’s Music


Max Wild is proof of how today's globalised society can inspire artistic creation. His musical education has been international to say the least, having spent his childhood in Zimbabwe, then moving to Berlin, followed by music schools in London and New York. This has produced a professional jazz artist who blends funk and traditional African beats for a living! Wild has played with many of the Zimbabwean greats like Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukuduzi, as well as New York-based, African Blue Notes. - Mondomix


Discography

TAMBA, featuring Sam Mtukudzi, Chiwoniso, Alicia Olatuja - ObliqSound, 2010
TEERERA (single), featuring Oliver Mtukudzi, ObliqSound, 2008
ZAMBEZI SUNSET, 2004

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Bio

Max Wild masterfully integrates Afropop, modern jazz, and funk rhythms through his own expansive vision. Featuring Zimbabwean vocalists Chiwoniso, Josh Meck, and Bella Charlie, Wild’s music fuses the rhythmic and melodic traditions of southern Africa with the sophisticated harmonies and inspired interactivity at the core of jazz. His new ObliqSound release Tamba is an ecstatic, intensely kinetic celebration that bridges cultural and stylistic divides while keeping feet on the move. Wild considers his musical path to be a direct reflection of his multi-cultural upbringing. Born to German parents, Wild grew up in Zimbabwe, later moved to London, and is now based in New York City.