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Vieux Farka Toure Releases His Best Studio Album, with a Brooklyn Show Thursday Night

The second-eldest son of Ali Farka Toure – the best-known founding father of Malian desert rock – Vieux Farka Toure is one of the world’s greatest lead guitarists. His signature style blends lightning-fast hammer-ons into a reverb-drenched resonance: he gets an orchestra worth of sound out of his custom-made amp. This global road warrior’s definitive album remains his 2010 live album, but his new one, Samba – out April 7 and due to be streaming at Bandcamp – is the best thing he’s recorded since then. Meaning “second” or “second-born in his native vernacular, it’s a welcome return to the endless volleys of electric flame that he’s made a name for himself with onstage. He’s playing Bric Arts on April 6 at around 9; as a bonus, the only Moroccan gnawa band in the US, Brooklyn’s mesmerizingly danceable Innov Gnawa open the night at 7:30. Advance tix are $15.

Spiraling multitracked guitars (Toure plays all of them here) flavor the loping, aptly titled opening track, Bonheur, Abdoulaye Kone’s ngoni harp adding yet another rustling layer to the thicket of sound. These songs are long, and there’s so much going here that it doesn’t hit you til the very end that it’s a one-chord jam.

Maffa Diabate takes over on ngoni on the next track, Mariam, and then on most of the rest of the album, joining a subtly conversational interchange with the bandleader’s spiky guitar. It’s a fond dedication to Toure’s youngest sister. Then the group hits a scampering groove with Ba Kaitere, anchored with a brisk blues bassline, eventually rising to a long, blazing guitar solo, Toure blasting with his usual blistering, icy tone.

Toure electrifies the ominously modal Malian folk song Samba Si Kairi, an uneasy anthem of strength and resilience:with the album’s most haunting guitar solo, it’s the album’s high point. The pairing of ngoni and guitar are akin to the Byrds taking a detour into the desert with their twelve-string guitars.

The band goes back to a purposeful stomp with Homafu Wawa and its echoey call-and-response, springboarding off a familiar Bob Marley riff. They vamp delicately on a catchy descending guitar hook throughout Maya and then bring back a harder-hitting drive behind Toure’s anthemic blues riffage in Nature. Kone’s ngoni harp returns to blend with the bandleader’s bristling jangle and clang in Reconnaissance, a Malian counterpart to talking blues.

Ouaga comes across as a much higher-voltage take on toweringly anthemic Alpha Blondy-style reggae, the rhythm section – Mamadou Kone on drums and Souleymane Kane on calabash, with Marshall Henry, Eric Herman and Cheikmane Ba sharing bass duties, keeps things close to the ground. The album winds up with a brief jam that sounds like it survived the cutting-room floor. All this is great advertising for Toure’s legendary, uncompromising live show. 

Dusky Grooves from the Toure-Raichel Collective

Desert blues albums are best enjoyed as a whole. Sure, you can break the individual tracks up and scatter them amongst different playlists, but a good desert blues album sets a mood. The Toure-Raichel Collective’s new album The Tel Aviv Session is a different kind of desert blues album, a collaboration between pyrotechnic Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure and Israeli keyboardist/bandleader Idan Raichel. Raichel is an insatiably omnivorous player who seemingly never met a style he didn’t want to master; Toure admits to thinking at first that Raichel was a “crazy hippie,” but on this generally low-key, daylong collaboration in an Israeli recording studio, the two make a good team. Although he plays acoustic guitar here, Toure still has the restless, uneasy edge that makes him such a compelling electric player. Raichel shows off a potent understanding of chromatically-fueled, Arabic-tinged motifs, often playing with a rippling staccato feel that, especially when he mutes the strings inside the piano, evokes the sound of a balafon or a qanun. In one passage, he brushes the strings for shimmery, harplike glissandos. Behind them, bassist Yossi Fine – who has toured with Toure, mentored Raichel in his early years and may ultimately have been responsible for jumpstarting this session – plays endlessly hypnotic loops in tandem with percussionist Souleymane Kane. French jazz harmonica player Frederic Yonnet guests on a rustic 1920s flavored blues jam that evokes Hazmat Modine in a particularly boisterous mood; Yankale Segal, from Raichel’s touring band, adds a third layer of richly glistening textures on Iranian tar lute on another. And the final cut, where the band finally cuts loose with an all-too-brief, soaring crescendo, features haunting, intense kamancheh (Iranian spiked fiddle) by Mark Eliyahu.

The rest of the album alternates between slinky two-chord desert blues vamps, and Middle Eastern piano music, sometimes in the same jam. Toure reveals a fondness for open chords and a biting facility for raga-like passages; Raichel often mimics Toure’s quicksilver hammer-on attack. Most of the songs here are long, slowly and casually coalescing out of themes typically introduced by the guitar. When Raichel supplies the central riff, Toure responds with fluttering, muted chromatics of his own, or simply steers the jam south toward Mali. The album liner notes mention “frequent breaks for coffee;” one suspects that there were other aromas wafting through the studio that day. The most hypnotic track, a lush, warmly major-key cut that brings to mind the Stones’ Moonlight Mile is followed by a brief, rather impatient, upbeat cut driven by Toure. Then they follow that with the single most hypnotic cut, featuring Raichel on Fender Rhodes, adding a vibraphone-like rhythmic bounce against Kane’s boomy calabash. It’s out now on Cumbancha; fans of desert blues, Middle Eastern music and intelligent jam bands ought to check it out. And it goes without saying: this collaboration between a Muslim African and an Israeli Jew underscores the argument that if we took the rabbis and mullahs (and American agitators) out of the picture and left everything to the musicians, there would be no war in the Middle East.

Cross-Pollination from the Toure-Raichel Collective

If you follow cross-cultural musical supergroups, you may have heard of the Toure-Raichel Collective: pyrotechnic Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure (son of Ali) in surprisingly laid-back acoustic mode alongside Israeli pianist Idan Raichel plus bassist Yossi Fine and percussionist Souleymane Kane. Grab a free download of their lush, watery, John Fahey-esque new instrumental, Bamba; they’re touring in support of their forthcoming album this spring, with two nights in New York at City Winery on April 13 and 14.