Album: Rauch – Vonji
Genre: Soul, World, Psychedelic Rock, Acid Jazz
Sounds Like: Edwin Starr, Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead
Technical Grade: 7/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 7/10
Commercial Value: 5/10
Overall Talent Level: 7/10
Songwriting Skills: 7/10
Performance Skills: 7/10
Best Songs: Gold Rush, River Nun
Strengths: Incredibly dynamic and original sound, polished musicianship.
Weaknesses: A little too overwhelming and dense for mainstream markets.
Ruach is a United Kingdom-based three piece that was formed by multi-instrumentalist frontman Vonji Uzele, a native of Kenya and lifelong musician with five full-length albums out to-date. For this most recent album, titled Vonji, meaning peace, Uzele enlisted the impromptu aid of percussionist Martin Donovan, saxophonist Carmine Manfredi, and Spanish guitarist Garry Millhouse. The album was produced by Hungarian jazz drummer Mat Diamond and was released last year in early July.
Vonji is thirteen tracks of musical charisma, sophistication, and uniqueness to the extent of which a majority of people haven’t been exposed to since the mid to late sixties. Skilled improvisation matched with equal parts spirit and personality burst from every composition; there is a lot of “musical bravery” in this album, ranging from experimentation with acid-jazz like dissonance, to incredibly dynamic and unorthodox song structures where about two or three different experiences can be gathered from one four-minute track. One of the many examples of such a shift, from Edwin Starr-like soul vocals and instrumentation to a swirl of free-form/acid jazz and psychedelic rock is the second track, “Skin Deep”. Songs such as “Gold Rush” demonstrate raw, fuzzy guitar riffage and commendable soul-influenced vocal talent that is refreshingly familiar to the inclusive and eclectic musical experimentation that was evident in sixties and seventies jam bands like The Grateful Dead or the Allman Brothers. Perhaps this musical conceptualization is most apparent in the six minute piece titled River Nun. An improvisational mix of psychedelic rock, soul, jazz, and even hints of funk, the track stands without a doubt as a unifying and mesmerizing spiritual journey that seems to emanate a since of musical togetherness and groove that is rare to come by and expect from modern musicians in a Western society. In short, there are so many different components to Vonji that it is difficult to fully comprehend every dynamic and experience the album has to offer. From sophisticated modal guitar playing, to unorthodox percussion and drumming, to elements of Eastern musical philosophy and psychedelic rock, there is without a doubt something in here for anyone to appreciate, and the great level of charisma and talent among these artists is unmistakable.
The musical objectives of Vonji are, at heart, incredibly charismatic and sophisticated. The playing is so dynamic, eclectic, and experiential that the group seems to forge their own genre out of about four or five existing ones. To most people, especially an average individual whose musical interests might be somewhat limited, comprehending and conceptualizing thirteen tracks of Ruach’s music is going to be somewhat of a challenge. The music is so multifaceted and dense that those lacking significant patience and understanding probably won’t last through about the third or fourth song. Basically, this type of music, although incredibly skilled, sophisticated, and designed to bring people together, is unfortunately only going to be thoroughly appreciated and listened to be those of a particular personality, perspective, and worldview who generally have the patience to see past instant-gratification in their sensibilities and see music more as a true art form as opposed to a mere source of entertainment. For this reason, like acid-jazz fanatics, dead-heads, and other specific music fans, Ruach and their album Vonji is somewhat of a niche work, despite how quality it is and how much it should be commended.
Ultimately however, the mainstream success of these tracks or lack thereof is probably of little importance to the sort of musicians that would create an album such as this. Vonji Uzele’s aspirations are far different than those of a marketable artist. The goal here was to create a musical journey to bring people together and hopefully work toward a sense of communal enlightenment and togetherness. For all those that are proactive enough to listen to the message, this album is, without a doubt, a shining success.