A Review of Jerry Leake’s latest album, Crafty Hands (2016)
December 13, 2016
Boston-based world-rock-fusion percussionist Jerry Leake is a special kind of musician. He deftly moves in and through numerous traditions from around the world – with deep respect and gratitude – yet also comfortably resides in contemporary styles and forms. But more than that, in his latest release, Crafty Hands (2016), Jerry offers listeners new pieces in which he combines and recombines his many musical interests and passions. One could use words such as “eclectic” and “collage” to describe the results, but these do not adequately capture the coherence and musically satisfying nature of Jerry’s accomplishments. The image that comes to my mind is of a colorful kaleidoscope, where an ever-so-slight turn shifts distinct bits into an entirely new and vibrant pattern. One can listen to and for the distinct musical inflections or instruments from West Africa, the Middle East, and India, but it is the coherent new soundscapes—always delightful and often deeply moving—that really matter.
Throughout the 13 tracks of Crafty Hands, Leake sets up wonderful grooves over which he lays out densely textured but changing surfaces. Tracks such as “Crafty Hands,” “Apprentice,” “Do You Think Your Thoughts,” “Dub Clef,” and “Begin by Listening” start with West African rhythmic cells and/or textures that incorporate West African timbres but quickly add more and more component parts until their full musical vistas emerge. In “Crafty Hands,” Jerry’s own singing voice takes center stage by mid-track, surrounded by a halo of bells, shakers, and strings, before the opening textures and grooves reassert themselves. In “Begin by Listening”—one of my favorite tracks—an appropriately authoritative voice assures us “It’s all just sounds” as the West African groove provides the foundation for that voice, a turntable, distorted, sampled chanting, and a jubilant reed to each make contributions. And just when you think this track or others have settled into their final textural forms, still there are more twists and turns as Jerry continues to transform his materials.
My brief comments only scratch the surface of Jerry’s music, and they completely fail to capture the beauty of “Time Tunnel” and “String Theory,” two more of my favorites. Here again, Jerry sets up grooves and amazing, changing surfaces, yet the timbres and combinations are different enough in these two tracks from those in the others that the album remains fresh and unpredictable. And then Jerry drops into your headphones a track such as “Blue Water,” which diverges significantly from the others, and you are once more left in awe of his creativity and ability to synthesize new worlds of sound.
The bottom line? Crafty Hands is an album of gorgeous music that will reward repeated listening. But it is also an album with a powerful — if implicit — political message. While there are relatively few words, and those that exist are not overtly political, Jerry’s soundscapes both celebrate and embody cultural diversity and the new possibilities that can emerge as we draw upon the best of all of us. Whether intended or not, that is a profoundly important political, social, and cultural statement. As the final track urges us, “Begin by listening.”
I highly recommend Crafty Hands to you.