A well-studied and endlessly experienced musician, Pascal Bokar is the embodiment of seamless, inventive hybrid music. Born in Paris, France but raised in Mali and Senegal, West Africa, and eventually becoming a jazz guitarist and scholar of African music himself, Bokar has used his unique experiences and perspective to develop a wholly unique sound that’s been referred to as “AfroBlueGrazz“, combining African musical concepts with the bluegrass, gospel, and blues sounds of the American south. Having been a headliner at more than 50 Jazz festivals nationwide alongside international performances in Europe and Asia, this unique crossover genre has been captivating audiences worldwide.
His most recent release American Trails leans heavily in the direction of the blues element of AfroBlueGrazz. Alongside Bokar, the album features Blaine Sprouse (fiddle), Tony Saunders (bass), Steve Carter (keys), Nate Ginsberg, and Idrissa Gueye (percussion). This album is endlessly fun and funky, soulful and rich, and unquestionably bluesy – a true amalgamation of styles like you’ve never heard before.
HERE’S WHAT WE DUG MOST…
The Blues Don’t Like Nobody is a headfirst dive into the AfroBlueGrazz sounds that Bokar has so ingeniously melded. This take on Otis Spann’s classic tune immediately brings to mind an incredibly wide variety of sounds, but in a way that feels cohesive rather than chaotic. The jazzy timbre of the horns, the soulful vocal stylings of Paula Harris, the smattering of background banjo, the scat interludes, the clean and intricate electric guitar riffs – it might sound crazy on paper, but this rendition of this track is captivating. Each time you listen through it, you can pick out a new tone, a different feel, something you hadn’t noticed the last time, and it only serves to further elevate the undeniable skills of this immensely talented group, lead seamlessly by Bokar at the helm.
But don’t get too comfortable in that particular sound, because this album has a full range of styles that we get to travel through. We get a classic R&B, soul feel from I Wanna See You In My Dreams, a timeless execution of a gentle duet featuring vocals from both Harris and Bokar. It continues the cohesive feel of the album by bringing in elements from the previous tune like the elements of scat and tight electric guitar riffs, but the sonic shift here is as apparent as it is impressive.
The African-inspired rhythms are particularly prominent in I Can Tell. The track is introduced to us by a decidedly funky rhythm guitar, followed quickly by the banjo, perfectly melding its plucky, cutting sound with the rest of the instrumentation as the drums kick in. The bassline here is a standout, with a driving but complex rhythm that keeps your ear tuned in to the low end of this number.
We also particularly like the intro of Let It Groove All Night Long. The synth sounds underneath the group vocal feel particularly modern, but the entrance of the banjo only seems to elevate that feeling, adding rhythm and dynamics before the rest of the band kicks in. In fact, if Bokar has done one thing on this album (besides creating a truly novel work of art), he’s proven the severe underutilization of the banjo in nearly every style of music.
OUR FAVORITE TRACK…
On an album so inventive and well-executed, it’s difficult to choose just one. But we love the slightly different take on these genre combinations in the album closer Every Time I See You There. This track features a base instrumentation that leans in the gospel direction, which itself beautifully to the additions of the traditionally southern instruments, particularly the banjo and the fiddle in this case – the consecutive solos that start at around 1:40 are show-stopping. But it also suits the scatting just as well, never letting us forget what a master of blending sounds and productions that Bokar undoubtedly is. The foot-stomping, energy-radiating nature of this track not only makes this the perfect closing track for the album, but it feels like it would be a great ending to an incredible live show as well.
Funky, soulful, twangy, jazzy, bluesy – it might be easier to list the genres that aren’t included on American Trails. This is the kind of expectation-crushing, innovative work that is far better understood when listened to rather than talked about. That said, we do think the masterful compositions, true musical talent, clear decades of experience, and top-level performances you can find on this album from Pascal Bokar might be best summed up in just one word: brilliant.
BELOW: Listen to American Trails by Pascal Bokar and connect with his website and social media platforms. Please support Pascal Bokar by visiting him online, and playing, downloading, and/or purchasing his music, or attending a live show! And, as always, thank you for supporting real music!