Etuk Ubong was born and raised in Lagos, but you don’t need me to tell you that; “Black Debtors,” his latest single, is built on a truncated rhythm so thick it feels like Fela Kuti’s “Open and Close” groove folded over on itself four or five times – a rhythmic orientation Ubong knows plenty about as a former sideman for Femi Kuti. But he’s a trumpeter, not a saxophonist, and he loosely stacks his horn section in sharp needlepoints and stitches a line that feels as indebted to midcentury American jazz as it does to mid-70s Nigerian funk.
That’s no accident. On his Tales of Life album and Miracle EP, both of which dropped in May, Ubong carves a crystalline form of Birth of the Cool—era jazz, carefully controlling his playing and taking it just to the border of dissonance without ever actually going over. “Black Debtors” expands in a similar way; even as it grows and his band begins to double back and twist the beat, they never pop into pure ecstasy. Ubong coaxes the song away from the edge with his voice, too, singing with a warm-honey tone that brings to mind Louis Prima, an organ hoovering away in the distance all the while. It’s an effortless synthesis of Ubong’s Nigerian and American influences, and it points toward more thrilling things to come. words / m garner