How do you create an entire world from nothing but tones, sounds and rhythms? A world full of width and depth, full of colors, movements and manifestations, with different temperatures and divergent courses of time. On “SulaMadiana”, it only takes two musicians to form such a world.
Nils Petter Molvær and Mino Cinelu both came a long way until their meeting became inevitable. Cinelu gained international renown on Miles Davis’ albums such as “We Want Miles” or “Amandla”. It is his percussive storytelling in particular which gave these records their mystical depth and spatial transparency. He has worked on several recordings from Weather Report, and, until recently, with the long-term prog institution “Gong”. Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Sting, Santana, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson all made use of his skills. His CD “Quest Journey” (2002) comes across like a collection of gripping short films. In 1995, together with Dave Holland and Kevin Eubanks, he had already sparked the magic of a complete sound world once before.
Nils Petter Molvær is one of the most outstanding figures in European jazz. In 1997, he made his debut with the CD “Khmer”, combining the Nordic feeling of nature with the Southeast Asian philosophy of sound. His journey into the uncharted areas of music spans almost a dozen records, on which he explored various combinations of acoustic and electrical sound generation. He dared to have genre affairs, e.g. with Berlin’s electronic producer Moritz von Oswald in 2013, with the reggae philosophers Sly & Robbie in 2018, or with Bill Laswell on several occasions.
The Norwegian trumpeter and the French percussionist represent two worlds, which – at first glance – could hardly be more different. Both are masters in the visualization of sound, and in changing the visible into the audible. Their musical home is the entire planet, but while Molvær’s hoarse and cloudy trumpet sound evokes boreal cold, Cinelu stands for the rhythmic fire of Latin America and Africa. On “SulaMadiana”, they finally found their common playground.
The two thoroughbred musicians first met in a cave in Cappadocia, Turkey, in 2015. Molvær played a solo concert with electronics, and Cinelu listened to him from the mixer. The trumpet player did not pay much attention to this fact, but he was surprised to find Cinelu still at the same place even after the concert was over. They started talking, and when they drove to the airport the next morning, they came up with a plan for a joint project. It took two more years for them to meet again, at Ibrahim Maalouf’s all-star concert in Paris, where they finally sealed the deal. Other projects in Germany and Poland followed, and the urge for collaboration began to take shape. Finally, they met in Oslo for a studio session. “The best way to start something is to start it,” Cinelu enthuses. “So I said: Let’s get started. Nils brought a groove along which I liked, we enriched it with sounds and other grooves, wanted to find a melody, and it just made ‘Bang’. It was a real trip. A lot of blood, sweat and tears, but even more love.” At the beginning of 2020, the recordings were rounded off in Cinelu’s Studio in Brooklyn.
The post-production was confronted with new challenges: Because of the Corona pandemic, it had to take place separately in Brooklyn and Oslo, in some kind of Transatlantic cooperation. This might have added even more space to the sound – however, it did not make it easier. “Without the intimate friendship that we developed in the course of this process, we would never have finished this project”, Cinelu summarizes.
“SulaMadiana” is a cornucopia, spilling out reverberations of Miles Davis, Gong, and previous works of Molvær, and yet Molvær and Cinelu open up doors to entirely new worlds. The album title is not some ancient spell, but a confession to the musicians’ respective biographies. Sula is the island from which Molvær stems, Madiana is a synonym for Martinique, where Cinelu’s father comes from. “SulaMadiana” combines all which is perceived as trusted, familiar, and achieved, with a notion of sounds beyond the horizon: glittering, shimmering, and always promising.
The individual roles on “SulaMadiana” are very flexible. Cinelu becomes a singer on his percussion, while Molvær’s electronically distorted sound surfaces inhabit an inconspicuously driving pulse. Cinelu plays acoustic guitar, Molvær conjures up drones on the electric guitar. The osmosis between the two musicians is enormous. “We are different, but what we have in common is that we like to give some space to things,” Molvær recaps. “I create space for him, he creates space for me, and we both create space for music.” Cinelu adds: “It doesn’t matter who has what share in music. We both know each other’s cultures, we find bridges and crossings, and often we walk these paths that lead in the same direction. We wrote everything together and followed our feelings. There are no limits or barriers.”
The abundance of sound images, of ethnic and historical references is breathtaking. On the album, Cinelu deliberately bows to his mentor Manu Dibango, whom he calls a sage, to the recently deceased Afrobeat master Tony Allen, and to the jazz drummer Jimmy Cobb, who also left us just a few weeks ago, and with whom he shared the Miles Davis experience. Even more exciting, however, is the fact that these sound images constantly re-combine themselves every time you listen, while the amount of amazement just increases with every listen. “SulaMadiana” is a world within itself, waiting to be discovered. The album will easily make its stand amongst previous creations of unmistakable sound worlds, such as Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” or Pat Metheny’s and Lyle May’s “As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls”. In times like these, we take comfort in knowing there are still musicians around who keep an eye and ear on the world as a whole.