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Jean-Paul Bourelly (born November 23, 1960) is an American jazz fusion and blues rock guitarist. He is known for his distinctively thick guitar sound and a penchant for mixing and bending styles ranging from funk, rock, jazz to atmospheric and psychedelic. He is also the founder and label owner of JPGotMangos.
Bourelly was born in Chicago, his mother American and his father an immigrant from Haiti. Bourelly sang at the Lyric Opera when he was ten years old and learned piano and drums, picking up guitar by age 14. He moved to New York City in 1979, where he played with Muhal Richard Abrams, Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones; he also had a role in the film The Cotton Club, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He released his debut solo effort in 1987, and played with Miles Davis in 1988. He played with Cassandra Wilson on several of her albums and continued to release solo efforts into the 2000s; these have been most successful in Japan.
Since his seminal album release Trance Atlantic (Boom Bop II) in 2001, Bourelly has concentrated his efforts on exploring a new sonic language through the guitar, with an accent on music created around the African Diaspora. Introduced in the album were his concepts of bi-tonal harmonic and poly-rhythmic playing, which is a harmonic theme he continues to pursue today.
Bourelly expresses himself frequently through different formations in order for him to explore his vast musical visions. He has formed multiple groups throughout the years to represent and express these musical impulses, including Stone Raiders, The BluWave Bandits, Boom Bop, Vibe Music, Gypsys Re-Loaded, 3 Kings, Citizen X (featuring vocalist and poet Sadiq Bey, bassist Reggie Washington and drummer Kenny Martin), Cut Motion, The Sheba Project, Lauf zum Meer and Kiss the Sky.
Bourelly took an early interest in music, starting piano lessons from the age of 4. At age 9, when his cousin Brain Jones, played him tracks from the Hendrix album Band of Gypsy’s, he realised that the electric guitar could lead a to vast new world of expression.
He was 13 when he finally started to take lessons and playing with friend, learned basic blues and rock songs. By the age of 16, he was performing in the local south side clubs, meeting other musicians like Lonnie Plaxico, Steve Coleman and Darryl Jones and playing in local jam sessions, most notably the sessions run by Chicago legend Von Freeman. Two years later in 1979, Bourelly followed the music to New York, with his goal set on one day performing with the drummer Elvin Jones. He performed with Chico Hamilton, Roy Haynes, Olu Dara and composer pianist Muhal Richard Abrams upon his arrival, experiencing diverse sides of New York’s vibrant jazz scene. Finally in 1983, he got the call to join Elvin Jones’s Jazz Machine, touring with him for two years and performing in several different lineups that included Richard Davis, McCoy Tyner and Pharaoh Sanders.
Having completed his apprenticeship, Bourelly experienced more and more pressure to “tone down” his sound and so he gradually gravitated toward the punk funk or New Wave music scene that was going on in New York in the 80’s. He was starting to play in places like CBGB, the Lone Star Cafe and the Pyramid Lounge. Some of the first signs of his own original blended sound were noticed by the press a few years later while appearing with his first New York band, The BluWave Bandits, who was a regular fixture at the original Knitting Factory.
In 1987, Bourelly debuted his album, Jungle Cowboy (JMT 1987), followed by the Enemy Records release, Trippin in 1990, which provided Bourelly the possibility of touring in Europe and Japan. After five solo recordings with the DIW label, Bourelly decided to move onto another musical atmosphere and context, which he found in Europe.
In 1994, Bourelly moved to Berlin where he formed Boom Bop, an African /American crossover which arose when Bourelly met singer and drummer Abdourahmane Diop in Kreuzberg. He was deeply impressed by Diop's art of recitation. He said, "The free treatment of tempo blended our two different experiences into some unique music."
The next years, Bourelly proceeded to form The Back Room concert series and curate the diaspora project, The Black Atlantic, both at House of World Cultures (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), Berlin. He also returned to the tried-and-tested guitar, bass and drum power trio format, but this time equipped with a deeper cultural and sonic palette. From 2004 to 2007, he continued to be prolific with his group formations, leading several versions of the group Vibe Music that included John Blackwell (Prince), TM Stevens, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer Felix Sabal Lecco; his solo acoustic project News from a Darked Out Room; the seven-piece group Cut Motion that is a part of the inter-local movement in Zurich; and the Hendrix tribute band Gypsy’s Reloaded with Cindy Blackman and Melvin Gibbs.
The Back Room
In 1998, Bourelly founded a concert series called The Black Room at House of World Cultures. The Back Room endeavours to open borders by bringing unfamiliar cultures together. Through communicating traditional rhythms, songs, lyrics and instruments the concert series developes a new language of exchange with others. Participating artists include Hassan Hakmoun, Milton Cardona, Horacio 'El Negro' Hernandez, Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Rose Doudou N’Diaye.
Congo Square, The Black Atlantic
Bourelly's work as curator and musician for the diaspora project Congo Square for The Black Atlantic at House of World Cultures  produced numerous concerts which addressed pressing issues such as cultural context, essentialism and Blackness; improvisation as a tool to examine transnational relations, migration and diaspora identity. His work with historian Paul Gilroy and their exchange also helped to further his thinking about the blended sounds of the diaspora. During this period, he performed with a wide variety of artists such as Dou Dou N'Diaye Rose, jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp and pianist Omar Sosa with the following concerts curated:
- Navigating the Jazz Impulse, Bourelly, Ndiaye Rose and Shepp
- Navigating Democracy, Navigating the Essence of Cool ("Yoruba Cool" "Ghetto Cool")
- Navigating Otherness
- Spirits and Resistance, Ayibobo with Omar Sosa
- E-Motions, Bourelly and DJ Spooky
- Navigating Utopia (with Muneer B Fennel)
- Activating the Rhythm Arts (with Tony Allen)
- Thinking of Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, Cindy Blackman, Santi DeBriano, Bourelly
- Jungle Cowboy (JMT Records, 1987)
- Trippin (Enemy Records, 1992)
- Saints & Sinners (DIW, 1994)
- Blackadelic-Blu (DIW, 1994)
- Tribute to Jimi (Koch Records, 1995)
- Fade to Cacophony (Evidence Records, 1997)
- Rock the Cathartic Spirits (Koch, 1998)
- Vibe Music (BMG, 1999)
- Boom Bop (Jazz Magnet, 2001)
- Trance Atlantic (Challenge Records, 2002)
- News From a Darked Out Room (Phonector, 2006)
- "Cut Motion" (JPGotMangos,) 2007
With Muhal Richard Abrams
With Charles and Eddie
- Duophonic (Capitol, 1992)
With Craig Harris
- Blackout in the Square Root of Soul (JMT, 1989)
- Love & Peace (Trio, 1982)
With Cassandra Wilson
- Point of View (JMT, 1985)
- Days Aweigh (JMT, 1987)
- She Who Weeps (JMT, 1991)
- Dance to the Drums Again (Columbia, 1992)