What Heat Bokante + Metropole Orkest Real World/Planet What Heat is white-hot: a cinematically musical masterpiece that in size, scope and style is as visionary and kaleidoscopic as the cascading soundscapes created by Philip Glass for his Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi trilogy. Comprising virtuosic musicianship, complex and exotic rhythmical patterns and multicoloured multicultural components, the album links a relatively recently assembled eight-piece supergroup containing players from five countries including members of a Grammy award-winning New York-based jazzfunk band, a French-Caribbean chanteuse and a Sting/Paul Simon sideman with the 40+ members of one of Europe’s most eclectic and acclaimed orchestras. The resultant mix of disparate music influences and instruments could have been messy but under the inspired direction/arranging of Bokante’s main man, Michael League and The Netherlands’ Metropole Orkest’s English conductor Jules Buckley, the set is anything but cluttered.
It could be argued that the soaring voice of Guadaloupe-born Malika Tirolien and the sociopolitical messages conveyed via the Canada-based singer’s lyrics (in French and Creole) are the glue that binds this ambitious collaboration, but that would devalue the cohesion brought to the project by Bokante’s superlative percussion and guitar sections and the versatility of the strings, woodwinds and brass of the orchestra’s classical musicians, who seem equally adept as a jazz big band.
Suffice it to say that Bokante’s melange of Caribbean, African, Middle Eastern, jazz and rock influences gels brilliantly with the sweeping strings and horn injections supplied by the Metropole Orkest. The expanse and variety of sound through eight protracted suites is simply breathtaking, with the combined collectives sashaying from downbeat to dynamic groove while twisting and turning like a shoal of reef fish.
What Heat opens menacingly with the clattering percussion and moody vocals of All the Way Home. Bod Lanme Pa Lwen transforms dramatically from cruise control to edgy rocker halfway through. In Chambre a Echos, Tirolien sings atop a bed of swirling strings, growling horns and a hypnotic baritone guitar figure. Bluesy dobro helps set up the curtain-closing La Maison En Feu before Middle Eastern-modulated violins and a busy choral section combine for a fittingly fiery and thrilling finale.
It would seem, in retrospect, that Bokante’s captivating 2017 debut album, Strange Circles, was the harbinger of even more brilliant and creative music to come.