Mali Obomsawin

REVIEW: Mali Obomsawin “Sweet Tooth”


Mali Obomsawin – Sweet Tooth

Originating from Portland, Maine, Mali Obomsawin (bass/hand drum/lead vocals) leads a small tight ensemble that explores 3 intense movements dedicated to the Wabanaki people. But don’t dismiss this young lady’s music as Native American chants & steady drum beats because you’d be making a stereotypical mistake. The Wabanaki Confederacy was comprised of 4-tribes occupying parts of Canada & the Northern USA (Maine area). Somehow, someway, through some miracle of music, they absorbed jazz & classical music to create this rousing suite with magical results.

Produced by Mali with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet/fluegelhorn) this remarkable music begins as an orchestral tapestry intro that captures palpitating jazz drums, assertive brass & a wall of bass lines that recalls some of the finest progressive 70s jazz. But this isn’t anything dated, pompous, or experimental. It’s well-thought-out compositionally & explores through tantalizing instrumental duels like Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band’s classic “East/West.” The interplay is always concise & scatters varied tonalities like mercury.


The 37-minute CD Sweet Tooth (Drops Oct 28–Out of Your Head Records) is a suite with grooves that sift through indigenous melodies with the added construct of free-form jazz & it’s a stew of musical flavors.

“Lineage,” is hot – it radiates with jazz sensibility I haven’t heard since Chick Corea’s Return to Forever’s “No Mystery.” The arrangement is as tight as a latex glove. Throbbing bass, multiple saxes & colorful musical interludes that blow cool across the pores of one’s skin. It has the oboe impact of Ravel’s Bolero & jazz lovers will be impressed with its steady progression.

Mali’s haunting vocals soar around the melodies. At times, not easy to listen to since the music also expresses the instrumental madness that is inherent in free-form jazz. The soaring sounds, the Roland Kirk-type sax aggression. Dramatic.

However, melodic passages do abound as in “Pedegwajois,” (“Little Round Mountain”) which has some movements similar to The Paul Winter Consort which often highlighted a more nature-environmental oriented jazz. Mali’s music is organic & rural.

The excitement comes with suggestions of Max Roach’s tribal-jazz drum style, Don Cherry’s trumpet bursts & Alice Coltrane with touches of Charles Mingus & others. Their stylizations are evident & absorbed in the originality that is Mali’s showcase.

The percussive intro to “Blood Quantum,” is chilling. Followed by the duels between many brass fortifications that charge through the speakers. It’s a challenging piece that speaks to the soul without words. Moments in the final cut will remind one of Miles Davis’s landscape from “Pharoah’s Dance,” on “Bitches Brew” or even Rain Tree Crow’s self-titled album (1991).

Highlights – “Odana,” “Lineage,” (magnificent), “Fractions,” & “Blood Quantum.”

Musicians – Savannah Harris (drums/vocals), Miriam Elhajli (acoustic/electric guitars/lead vocals), Allison Burik (bass clarinet/alto sax/vocals) & Noah Campbell (tenor/soprano/alto saxophones/vocals).

Cover image by Abby & Jared Lank. CD @ &


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