Album Review of

Written by Joe Ross
April 29, 2021 - 2:13pm EDT
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This album’s backstory began in 2016 when tenor saxophonist and composer Berta Moreno was invited by an organization called “Bilingual Birdies” to the Kawangware region of Kenya to work with kids at the Little Ray of Hope School. While volunteering in a poor, disadvantaged neighborhood fraught with poverty hunger and lack of water, she also encountered happiness and joy among the people who faced their challenges with music, dancing, hope and optimism. Moreno and this album’s producers then raised over $12K in a Kickstarter campaign to record and release this original fusion of jazz, soul and African music that’s guaranteed to make you smile and dance.

Born in Madrid but now based in New York, Berta Moreno composed all eight songs on Tumaini  (meaning “hope” in Swahili), and she gets a nice groove going with her instrumental bandmates Maksim Perepelica (bass), Raphaël Pannier (drums), Franco Pinna (percussion) and Manuel Valera (piano, keyboard). “Karibu” opens the set with an intensity that stimulates one’s imagination with intrigue. Alana Sinkëy, from Guinea-Bissau, is prominent in several selections as a powerful singer who evokes a sense of reflection (“The Beauty of the Slum”), courage (“Hope”) or joyful spirit in a four-voice choir (“Afrika”). Scat vocalizing adds a profound statement of sensitivity in “Mandhari I.” The arrangements are pleasing, musicians solid, and tracks like “Dance” and “Kutembea” gain momentum with East African rhythms juxtaposed over contemporary jazz concepts of harmony and melody. Moreno’s jazzy sax is centerstage, and she’s a fluid, flowing improviser especially when the musical conversations create tension and release with Valera’s piano and the rhythm section. Imagine Africa’s natural wildland, landscapes and sunsets in this music, but even more importantly, remember that music like this breaks down barriers and helps people deal with life’s struggles and challenges.   (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)