"I'm going to play a lot of music from my new album tonight," says trumpeter Peter Somuah on January 3rd to a packed BIMHUIS that still looks a bit sleepy. New Year's Eve is only barely finished, for many people this is clearly the first night out of 2023. Peter Somuah isn’t alone on stage, he brought along five great musicians, and with the first few notes, he drags the audience into a musical tunnel where many only land back on planet Earth at the cloakroom on their way home.
Last year was a small triumph for Somuah. He played criss-cross through Europe on many different stages, released the beautiful debut album Outer Space, won an Edison award in the jazz category, and previously received the Erasmus Prize. And now he's back with a stunner of a sequel.
‘Do you want to know the name of the new album?’ Somuah asks with a modest smile, about halfway through the show. A round of cheers of agreement. ‘It’s called… (long pause, which makes everyone laugh) Letter to the Universe.” The audience lets out a collective satisfied sigh, as Somuah continues his show.
The danceable music he plays as a smiling and charming band leader with his five-piece band indicates that jazz doesn’t have to be difficult or complex to be off an extremely high level. The songs Somuah plays are mixed with afrobeat and funk and therefore work as a kind of entry-level model for jazz, without ever becoming simple. It’s accessible and you can easily be transcended by the dreamy soundscapes and the minutes-long, beautiful trumpet solos of the Ghanaian Dutchman.
In Accra, Ghana's capital city, Peter Somuah grew up with Highlife music, a swinging combination of big band influences from the colonial era merged with local fusions of African metre and Western jazz melodies. He started playing there at the age of fourteen and became attached to the music of Miles Davis. When the name Davis is mentioned, a warm radiance suddenly flashes across his face. One day a buddy brought him a video of Miles, Somuah explains in an interview. He was mesmerized: "I really wanted to be able to play like that. I had no idea what he was doing or how he was doing it, I just tried to pick out the notes and imitate him."
The album Letter to the Universe itself starts with a thoughtful spoken word, by slam poet Lisette Ma Neza. And the rest of the songs also lift you up a bit, in shiny trans, with beautiful contributions from Latanya Alberto, Stevo Atambire, and Ghanaian veteran Gyedu Blay Ambolley. In his compositions, Somuah explores the boundaries between jazz, funk, and traditional Ghanaian music, mixed with a very small touch of electronics.
In the pulsating and frenzied Mission On Earth, for example, one can read an unmistakable dedication to Miles Davis's "Bitches Brew" phase, and an echo of the layered architecture of today's cosmic jazz as played by modern heroes like Kamasi Washington. Somuah effortlessly switches with his trumpet playing between experimental-layered (on Raindrops) and soothing-transcendental (Soft Touch and Green Path).
Both live and online, Somuah creates a flow and eloquent narrative, an open-ended journey with clear signs of sheer joy. When Somuah sells out the Bimhuis or joins a jam session in Paradiso, it is striking: the audience is young, fanatical, fiery, stylishly dressed, and hardly ever picks up the phone.
Letter to the Universe is a must-listen for all contemporary jazzheads. The album came out on the 28th of April via the German ACT Records. Also, The Peter Somuah Group will play at Tolhuistuin, Amsterdam, on Saturday, June 3rd. Don't miss it!
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