The Mande Variations
We say: Less is much more with a kora genius' sensitive solo selection
Malian kora player Diabate may have picked up some of his music education from his mentor, the late guitarist Ali Farka Toure, but he also learned something else: to be open to musical possibilities. Just as Toure worked with Ry Cooder on the '94 album Talking Timbuktu, so Diabate has played with Taj Mahal and Damon Alban, appeared on Bjork's most recent album, collaborated with jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd and worked with a flamenco group.
But for this exceptional outing he goes right back to his origins for a rare solo album which offers, for the most part, a more meditative and reflective aspect of his chiming, melodic style.
Certainly the upbeat "Kaounding Cissoko" has a sprightly quality about it, but elsewhere in these sometimes improvised pieces Diabate takes a more considered and quiet route, notably in the opening and closing passages of the track entitled "Ali Farka Toure" which has rich ballad quality, and on "Djourou Kara Nany" which follows.
"Diabate" is almost profligate with magical melodies which emerge, are explored briefly then left behind as he goes off onto another tangent (the 10–minute opener "Si Naani" and achingly beautiful "Elyne Road") and everywhere here you are aware of a master in command of his art. Highly recommended.
Habib Koite and Bamada
We say: Mellow moods from Mali
Mali must have more musicians per head of population than anywhere outside Jamaica because every year another half dozen emerge with albums which just take your breath away. It has been about five years since his debut album but singer/guitarist Habib Koite has been busy touring the world––and at home exploring various regional styles.
It is the latter he brings to this mesmerising, mellow and consistently laid back series of songs which reflect his discoveries––although most listeners (myself included) won't be so keenly attuned to these nuances. What we will hear is simply a collection of gentle songs underpinned by ticking percussion, waves of rippling guitar, a pulsing bass, and soft choral support. Koite's undemanding but enchanting vocals wash over you and although some might decry its middle–of–the–road approachability (the lyrics tell another story however) that takes little away from a fine collection by someone emerging as a major contender.
Kim Kashkashian and Robert Levin
We say: Chamber music that is less fiery than fireside
Although subtitled "Songs from Spain and Argentina" and pianist Levin saying in an interview these pieces are "unabashedly flamboyant", there is little of that passionate looseness evident here in these viola and piano duets, rather a more stately drawing room feel is brought to these transcriptions of folk–influenced songs, seven by Manuel de Falla.
This has all the feel of an especially sensitive but serious recital, and Kashkashian on viola adopts the intonation and phrasing of the human voice to carry these songs into deeply emotional territory.
This one will win minds rather than hearts as it requires quiet consideration––but it goes very well with a glass of light red, a good book and the hearth at dusk.
Songs of Love and Devotion from India and Pakistan
We say: Love and devotion don't often sound this unconvincing
The beguiling microtones of music from the Indian subcontinent––not to mention the swooning of sitar and urgent passion of tabla––seem made for love songs. Even high–energy Bollywood movies slow their pace to allow for a dew–eyed ballad or two. London–born singer and poet Aziz isn't the strongest or most enchanting of vocalists however and this ambitious project––it leaps across time and space from devotional Sufi poetry to ghazal (love poems) and popular songs––stretches her to the limit.
Harmonium player here Ustad Fida Hussain Khan has arranged the material and it is his decades of experience which is the foundation.
Aziz studied classical piano, tried her hand as a singer–songwriter and in the last decade moved towards the songs of her childhood. The liner notes here acknowledge that she is yet to craft a distinctive voice and that hers is an unfinished journey. Fair comment, and she says many may wish to treat this collection as a signpost to other performers in the field. That is a modest aim; but this is an album which, despite a few moments of charm, has much to be modest about.
Graham Reid is an award–winning New Zealand travel writer, music writer and journalist. His book Postcards From Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year award, and his website www.elsewhere.co.nz features travel stories, photos, rock'n'roll reminiscences, and a weekly music review in which he posts tracks from albums which have gone past radio programmers and other reviewers.