It’s an incredible story. Born in a small village in Cameroon, Richard Bona was raised by a musical household and developed a talent for building instruments. As a teenager he was inspired to take up bass guitar after hearing Jaco Pastorius. In 1995 he moved to New York and has flourished into an international star.

That is the short version. At the Jazz Café Bona quickly established a rapport with his audience, cracking a few jokes while the sound man sorted out an errant monitor. His warm sense of humour shone through at frequent intervals, such as a moment of mocking the classic lack of rhythm suffered by many gig-goers in this country.

Two exceptional elements of the music stood out: Bona’s expressive, sweet-sounding, flexible voice and his equally dexterous bass playing. Both were drawn together for a trademark display of simultaneous scat-singing and blistering finger-picking, his left hand speeding up and down the fretboard with virtuosic precision. Interested readers are advised to check out youtube for examples of this unique capability.

Moods varied from relaxed ambience to deeper, sharper grooves and a regrettable smattering of smooth jazz. A couple of Kenny-G-esque numbers were only saved by the charm of Bona’s vocals and a steady Latin undercurrent provided by percussionist Samuel Torres. However, the evening’s highlight was when the multinational backing band walked off stage completely. Left all alone (and without his bass), Bona used a loop pedal to layer up vocal harmonies, magically turning himself into a one-man choir.

This must have been one of the quietest recent gigs at the Jazz Café, perhaps intentionally: the Sunday-night crowd remained in absolute silence for long periods. Despite phases of duller instrumentation verging on pop, the songwriting encompasses a broad range of genres and Richard Bona is a highly gifted performer.

Published @ Fly, 8/4/08 – click here for original.