Seckou Keita Quintet
The Silimbo Passage
Douglas Heselgrave's #12 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2008, Volume 15, #9
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Sun September 28, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
The kora is so versatile that it easily can be adapted to suit any type of music. After all, depending on how it is approached, its sound can resemble an orchestral harp as much as a delta blues guitar. During the last 20 years, many African musicians have charmed Western audiences with their virtuosity on the instrument. Resembling a lute or guitar, the kora has 21 strings — eleven of which are played with the left hand, while the remaining ten are plucked with the right hand. This dual-picking style allows musicians to play both rhythmic accompaniments and melodic solos simultaneously. While listening to a master perform on a kora, it is almost impossible to believe that one person could create such complex and uplifting polyrhythms. Mali’s Toumani Diabate is, perhaps, the instrument’s most famous living proponent, and his recordings — both as a solo artist and as a member of fusion groups such as Songhai — have unlocked many exciting venues for the kora’s ethereal seduction.
Seckou Keita is a Senegal-born kora player, who currently resides in England. The Silimbo Passage is the second album that he has made with his self-named quintet, and it certainly is a rather graceful and lyrical collection of music. Throughout the endeavor, Keita approaches the kora in a manner that is quite different from Issa Bagayogo, whose excellent new outing Mali Koura uncovers the relationship between traditional West African rhythms and modern electronica. In comparison, Keita’s compositions on The Silimbo Passage are strictly old-school. Collaborating with musicians from all over the globe, he explores the usage of the kora in both jazz and classical formats, and not surprisingly, the results are absolutely lovely.
Each of the 10 compositions on The Silimbo Passage may have been based upon Senegalese compositional forms, but even a perfunctory stroll through the album is sufficient for revealing its textural diversity. The most dominant factor is the presence of a violin, which is played by Samy Bishai. His clear and precise notes weave in and out of Keita’s cascading string patterns to create a soundscape that incorporates and echoes everything from the harvest songs of the Nile River Valley to Stephane Grappelli’s Café de Paris orchestra. The arrangements and interplay between Bishai and Keita reach such dazzling heights on Kano Foru, for example, that it’s hard to believe that the results were born from the work of only one violinist and one kora player.
Grounded by Davide Mantovani’s superb stand-up bass parts and Surahata Susso’s percussion accompaniments, all of the material on The Silimbo Passage is of equal caliber. Several of the songs also feature Binta Susso, Keita’s sister, and her vocals are deep and soulful. In fact, her singing effectively knits the ensemble together, proving that it is possible to create music that fuses together an array of musical cultures without sacrificing either quality or authenticity.
Lately, it seems as if there is an endless stream of African albums hitting store shelves each week. Without a doubt, The Silimbo Passage is one of the better acoustic-based endeavors. It should delight fans of both the kora and European jazz.
Of Further Interest...
The Silimbo Passage is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box