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Fatoumata Diawara and Roberto Fonseca
At Home
Harmonia Mundi World Village

This intriguing collaboration between rising Malian singer/songwriter Fatoumata Diawara and hotshot Cuban jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca was recorded live last year at France's Jazz in Marciac festival, part of a series of dates last summer that's blossomed into a full-fledged summer tour in 2015. The duo's collaboration grew out of a recording session for Fonseca's 2012 release Yo, where Diawara's showstopping vocal performance made “Bibisa” one of the album's standout tracks.

The concept of pairing Malian and Cuban musicians goes back a little farther, of course. Producer Nick Gold's original vision for what would become the Buena Vista Social Club's first album was actually based on a cross-cultural musical collaboration between some of Mali and Cuba's finest. Unfortunately, visa issues prevented the Malians from making the trip and Gold's vision wasn't fully realized until 2012's celebrated AfroCubism project, which paired such Malian heavyweights as Bassekou Kouyate and Toumani Diabate with the surviving members of the original BVSC crew. 

Diawara and Fonseca's connections to that project run deep. Diawara was one of the backup singers on the AfroCubism sessions and Fonseca has played with the BVSC for years now. But this project is all their own, and reflects a more finely-honed jazz sensibility than one might expect, which is both a blessing and a curse here.

The set starts off strong with “Sowa," an original from Diawara's 2012 debut Fatou retooled here as a sweaty funk workout complete with a monster Stevie Wonder inspired clavinet groove from Fonseca.

But things slow down considerably on the following track. “Connection” is a sultry original from Fonseca built over a hypnotically repeating contrabass riff and subtly percolating percussion. You can hear the musicians begin to relax and stretch out here, with Fonseca's inspired piano fills weaving their way around Diawara's relaxed vocals, alternately chasing and punctuating her flow. 

  "Connection" (excerpt)

Unfortunately “Connection” goes on for a full 14 minutes, bogging down somewhere in the middle and succumbing to a bad case of kitchen-sink virtuosity. Make no mistake, there's some stellar musicianship on display here, especially from Diawara's guitarist Sekou Bah, but after minute nine it all begins to get lost in the sauce.

  "Yemaya" (excerpt)

And the set itself never quite recovers its momentum or mojo after this. While tracks like “Yemaya” and “Neboufo” swing along pleasantly enough for a festival, they never quite add up to a cohesive home listening experience. Even the collection's lone original, the ballad “Real Family," isn't quite enough to save the day. 

That said, there's more than enough good material on At Home to whet listeners' appetite for their live show - or, better still, a proper studio album. - Tom Pryor

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