Bonobo: Black Sands
Ninja Tune

I'll confess that, though this is Simon Green's fourth Bonobo full-length, it's the first one I've heard—my loss, clearly, if the first three are anywhere near as solid as this latest one. The set shows him to be a skilful producer with his ears wide open—as “Kiara” in particular makes clear when it draws from the fresh sounds emanating out of the UK in the work of artists like Joker and Subeena. Black Sands isn't a one-dimensional riff on the latest trend, however, but instead a wide-ranging argument for Green's reach as a producer and arranger (not only does he assemble the myriad sounds using digital means but apparently plays most of the tracks' live instruments too).

Judiciously timed at fifty minutes, the album first sneaks up on you when Green has “Kiara Prelude,” a rather Asian-sounding orchestral overture of stately piano and string melodies, morph into “Kiara,” where the strings re-appear but this time grounded in a thumping beat, sliced vocal effects, and synth spritzes. By contrast, “Kong” works a laid-back swing and Latin percussion accents into a soul-jazz-hip-hop hybrid, whereas “All In Forms” finds him working earthier, beats'n'bass territory. Elsewhere, Andreya Triana elegantly drapes her soulful voice across the tick-tock skip of “Eyesdown.” Green's attention to detail is evident here in the percussive accents that punctuate—almost subliminally—the thick rhythmic flow that courses so relaxedly under the vocal (that sensitivity to the well-placed sound emerges during “El Toro” in the way the violin motif lifts itself out out of the larger horn mass). Triana's singing also boosts the soulful quotient of the jazz-funk jam “The Keeper” and the jazzy snap and swing of the nightclubby “Wonder When.”

Some tracks fit comfortably alongside Ninja Tune label-mates Amon Tobin and The Cinematic Orchestra. Infused with a Brazilian-tinged swing, the rambunctious “El Toro” could easily pass for the work of the former, while the pulsating acoustic jazz breeze of “Animals” (replete with soprano sax solo) and the plaintive grandeur of the horns-burnished waltz “Black Sands” call to mind the latter. Such tracks indicate just how wide-ranging Black Sands is, especially when heard alongside the release's other eight pieces.

May 2010