The Shaolin Afronauts dab from the musical palette of Gil Evans’ cool jazz orchestration, plus Curtis Mayfield’s and Fela Kuti’s funk with African rhythms for a unique blend of jazz and afrobeat for their latest set, Quest Under Capricorn. Recorded in January 2012 at Adelaide Festival Center and released in late July 2012, it features an expanded eighteen-person line up to bring in more instrumentation. While adding good color, sometimes it feels a bit more mellow than I expected it to be.
The orchestral sound for much of the first tracks seem to be layering the story, but it isn’t until half way through the track, “Los Angeles”, that you hear the band take flight collectively. There, they follow the lead of the saxophones’ mimicking screech like the madness of traffic. This fuels the exploratory sound mission for the title track and you can hear that feel same spirit of adventure in “Amhara” and “Voyage”, though I wish that the latter track wouldn’t have taken that additional minute or so really get started. Beginning as traditional Afrobeat sound in “Winds Over Gayanamede”, then follows through with more of a 70’s “blaxploitation” soundtrack piece with stinging horns and strings. The final track, “Saturn’s Dance”, is where I really begin to feel the outer-spaceness of a Sun Ra comparison for this band and it’s a wonderful moment that I would’ve loved that have lasted longer. Quest is a good record from Ross McHenry and company that maybe with just a few less layers at times would have been even better.