Etienne Mbappé The Gloved One With its dazzling chops and pan-global influences, Etienne Mbappé’s How Near How Far [Abstract Logix] could easily have been just another self-indulgent blowout from a fleet-fingered virtuoso intent on flaunting his post-Jaco bona fides. But although the 11-track disc is packed with features commonly associated with the bombastic side of fusion—including complex arrangements, odd time signatures, tight unison lines, extreme dynamics, and serious soloing—How Near How Far also offers a few dishes missing from so many similar feasts: mature restraint, deeply felt emotion, and a youthful sense of adventure. Perhaps Mbappé’s travels around the world have exposed him to so many flavors that his music organically combines them all. Born in 1964 in the central African country of Cameroon, Mbappé arrived in Paris at age 14, and after a stint in music school, he started his first band at 17 and began playing bass at 20. His timing was fortuitous: Paris in the 1980s was a crossroads of African sounds and a hotbed of world music, and young Etienne was in the mix and on the scene, playing and recording with acclaimed French fusion band Ultramarine and superstars like Manu Dibango. On tour with Malian singer Salif Keita, Mbappé met Joe Zawinul in Los Angeles, which led to gigs with Steps Ahead and two years with the Zawinul Syndicate. This led to playing in John McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension, a gig Mbappé has held since 2009. Along the way, he has maintained a high-profile sideman career (Ray Charles, Robben Ford, all-star group the Ringers) and a busy calendar with his group Su La Také while achieving notoriety for the silk black Pipolaki gloves he wears to keep his strings bright. How Near How Far introduces the high-powered six-piece Mbappé calls the Prophets, whose mission is to make music without borders and barriers. Unsurprisingly, the spirits of McLaughlin and Zawinul infuse the album, especially in its globetrotting mix of harmonic and rhythmic flavors, and despite the abundance of technique, one senses just as much warmth and humor, as well as a distinctly French soulfulness. There’s something for everyone: killer string and horn arrangements and cool bass/piano unison lines (“John Ji”), Africa-India fusion, with electric violin reminiscent of Jean-Luc Ponty (“Bandit By E.E. Bradman Photograph by Umberta AppA bassplayer.com / january2017 39
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