Few groups live up to their name as well as Bohemian Trio, whose debut album Okónkolo speaks to the true voice of America: a cacophony of cultures that together forge a new identity that transcends Old World boundaries. Their original blend of classical lyricism, jazz harmony, Latin dance and Afro-Cuban beats reflects their diverse cultural and musical backgrounds.
Saxophonist/composer Yosvany Terry and pianist Orlando Alonso were born and trained musically in Cuba, while French-American cellist Yves Dharamraj is also part Trinidadian. Sax, piano and cello? This unique configuration was a conscious choice by the group to eschew traditional instrumentation for an improvising group, and it pays dividends in the sound of Okónkolo, at once refined and edgy.
The album’s title track is named for the “baby” or smallest member of the Batá drums used in Yoruba religious ceremonies. The okónkolo traditionally serves as timekeeper while the “father” itótele and “mother” iyá drums converse, improvise and entertain. In Terry’s “Okónkolo,” this drumming tradition is both a metaphor for the interaction between saxophone, cello and piano, and a reflection of the cultural diffusion that embodies the Bohemian Trio and its music.
Also on the album are works by Pedro Giraudo and Manuel Valera, some of which use Latin and jazz idioms while dovetailing classical sounds and techniques. Giraudo’s “Push Gift” is a relentless Argentinean milonga that borrows Baroque imitation and Impressionistic harmonies. Valera’s “Impromptu” is a breezy piece that pays homage to George Gershwin.
As Adam Parker writes in the liner notes, “We might think of Bohemian Trio as a commingling of various musical styles and lived experiences, and this can help us as we seek to explain the group’s generous display of talent. Or we can just listen and marvel at the beauty of it.”