Occasionally one will find a track repeated on an album in a slightly different format, for instance it might first appear as a vocal track and close out the record as an instrumental reprise. It is however highly unusual to discover a CD that duplicates several of the songs as is the case with Side-By-Side, Francis Jacob’s current project.
The inspiration behind the recording of both electric and acoustic guitar versions for most of the songs originated with the fact Jacob is part of an electric quartet in New York City, and also performs numerous gigs with African bands. Jacob says, "The African people have never seen me playing a nylon string guitar and the other people have never seen me playing electric. They are totally different scenes. At first I thought I would to the acoustic version, and then I thought I would do it (as an electric) CD, but then I (concluded) I will do it both ways."
In explaining the different voices that arise from the acoustic and electric versions of the songs, Jacob says, "When you present an original composition to one person and then to one another they react in a different (fashion) to it. It becomes a different tune." When Jacob presented his songs to the electric quartet he would get one styling and when it was handed over to the African musicians they would come up with a different groove.
With a distinctly European ambiance created in part by the splendid harmonica player Grégoire Maret, the acoustic song "Children" opens this book of tunes. Jacob creates a bucolic atmosphere with his gentle guitar chording. Maret also appears on the acoustic renditions of "Pacific Vibes," "Paul," "Blues," and "On The Other Side."
Jacob was first drawn to the African beat during the 1990’s. "I think that one of the charms of being a musician in a city like New York is there are so many people coming and going from all over the world. A friend of mine had called me and asked if I would sit in with an African band and I just stayed on," he says seemingly taking great pride in telling me that he was the only white guy in the group. The band eventually adopted the name The African Blue Note.
The African ensemble is well represented on Side-by-Side with outstanding bass player Mamadou Ba (Senegal) and keyboardist Azouhouni Adou (West Africa). Along with Jacob’ once again outstanding fret work the trio combine with Alioune Faye (percussionist/vocals) from Senegal, Brazilian Gilmar Gomes (percussion), drummer Harvey Wirht (Suriname) and Seattle native Aaron Heick’s alto sax to create the lively and fun electric version of "Mon Ane."
Nigerian Kofo The Wonderman and his talking drums are featured on the electric voice of "Pacific Vibes." "I had this specific rhythm that I wanted him to play, but he just dismissed it and played something completely different," says Jacob before educating me about the talking drum. "It is Nigerian, and is also found in Senegal. It is a long drum that you put under your arm. In Nigeria it is often used as a means of communication. For instance when a father wants his son to come home he will us a (certain type) of rhythm."
The song "Pacific Vibes," is also a personal song that visits the Pacific coast of Colombia, the homeland for Jacob’s wife. Although they speak Spanish, there is a very strong African influence to their (The Colombians’) music. It is very close to West African," he says.
The last track, "Hookey," is only recorded as an electric tune. "The melody of "Playing Hookey," is a game. It is about two kids. The saxophone and guitar (represent) the children. I wanted to finish on a happy note and this is a very childish song," says Jacob.
Francis Jacob has been successful at developing a signature sound to his music calling upon African, European, South African and New York City influences. "Africans have an amazing skill to come up with very simple and strong melodies. The Europeans have a (talent) for taking things and twisting them around, something they have been doing for the past two or three hundred years. That is what I do with rhythms. I take a rhythm from Brazil or Africa and I just put it in my own way so that it is slightly different. It is a very European approach to music and making it your own," he says.
In the past, Jacob’s African music tendencies have brought invitations and subsequent performances at Mexico’s Afrocaribe Festival and the Festival Nuits d’Afrique in Montreal, Canada.
He has just concluded working on a new recording with Mamadou Ba and Azouhouni Adou.
If you are looking for a delightful easygoing album whose Afro Latin beats are lively but kept on the lighter side the CD Side-by-Side by Francis Jacob would be a good album to invest in. One of the world’s premier guitar players Jacob continues to push the boundaries of his genre as he expands as he broadens his own personal horizon.