Roswell Rudd & Toumani Diabate
Sunnyside 2002

cd cover Pan-cultural instrumental encounters, especially those involving jazz musicians, are risky undertakings so many succumb to the temptation to slap exotic sounds onto the same old endless self-indulgent jams, and dub the result fusion. "MALIcool," a thoughtful collaboration between jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd and a group of Malian jelis led by kora great Toumani Diabate, is a triumphant affirmation of the worth of risky enterprises. Rudd's trombone insinuates rather than invades Malian forms, successfully inviting reciprocation; the styles remain distinctly recognizable on all then tracks, playing with and complementing each other, yet contributing to comprehensive wholes. Basseko Kouyate's ngone, a percussive banjo-like instrument, is a special revelation in its speed and expressiveness, taking to the more sustained notes of jazz with a natural sympathy.

"Bamako" begins with a gently rolling rhythm on djembe and guitar, Rudd's mellow trumpet drawing a minor-key melody with deliberate notes, Toumani Diabate's kora running rings of arpeggios around the melody. Ngone solos as Lassana Diabate's balophone enters the backing rhythm before taking a solo of its own, all the Malian instruments exhibiting a trademark melodic style of rapid, flowing arpeggios interrupted by peremptory rhythmic stops. Mamadou Kouyate's naked vocal kicks of "Rosmani," trombone soon entering to echo the vocal line before the track resolves into a rocking rhythm, balophone prominent in background, muted trombone scatting like a semi-articulate elephant. Sayon Sissoko's acoustic guitar shines both on the straight beat and riffing rapidly along its polyrhythmic undertow, both balophone and kora adding impossibly quick call-response solos.

"Jackie-ing" illustrates MALIcool's unity in diversity, trombone and balophone introducing a decidedly non-Malian melody over a jazzy chord progression, percussion section playing staccato tricks. The inventiveness of balophone and kora on a sort of melodic structure for which they are not tuned is striking and exciting. "Hank" begins with a traditional Malian dramatic statement of the melodic theme, with kora and ngone trading riffs over a subtly jazzy beat, ngone especially adept at the more sustained notes of jazz, the beat resembling slack reggae as vocals by Mamdou Kouyate and Dala Diabate enter. The classic "All Through the Night" is rendered as quiet narrative blues led by trombone and walking bass, kora hyperactively yet appropriately commenting upon the melody even as Rudd jazzes it progressively up. The closing "MALIjam" kicks off uproariously on Beethoven's "Song of Joy."

MALIcool is not only listener-friendly, but artist-friendly, the sound of creative, diverse musicians having a fine old time. - Jim Foley

You can read another review, and hear a song from the CD at RootsWorld

Hollow Ear

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