Fiery Tuareg jamband leader and lead guitar wizard Omara “Bombino” Moctar lives on the road. Over the years, he’s also been able to put out a surprisingly diverse series of albums that continue to push the envelope and change the face of Saharan psychedelic guitar music. His latest album, Azel – meaning “roots” in his native Tamasheq and streaming at his music page – is a lot more terse and crystallized than you migiht expect from a master of the recently resurgent art of lead guitar. He and his five-piece band are playing a free show at 7:30 PM this Saturday night, July 23 at 7:30 PM at Prospect Park Bandshell. Femi Kuti – Fela’s kid – leads his Afrobeat band afterward sometime around 9.
Recorded by Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth over a ten-day period in Woodstock, the album’s production thankfully doesn’t gloss over Bombino’s signature edge and bite. If anything, the sound is enhanced by increased bass presence along with crystalline percussion balanced in the corners of the mix. Although Bombino has made it clear that this album is heavily influenced by classic roots reggae, that doesn’t come through as clearly as it could. The songs here, many of them familiar from concerts over the past couple of years, are a lot more dynamic than your typical rootsy two-chord jam, typically keeping things closer to the ground than the long improvisational firestorms that Bombino is known for onstage.
The opening track, Akhar Zaman (This Moment) is a typical blend of catchy and hypnotic, although Bombino’s Tamasheq lyrics address the harsh toll cultural imperialism has taken on his native land’s arts and culture. Iwaranagh (We Must) is even catchier, centered around Bombino’s penchant for playing desert riffs within the structure of American rock chord changes and hooks. The third track, the all-acoustic Inar (If You Know tHow Much I Love You) benefits from Longstreth’s beefed-up production.
Tamiditine Tarhanam (I Tell You,My Love) returns to blazing, distortion-fueled desert rock, the bandleader’s rapidfire hammer-on riffage bringing to mind Vieux Farka Toure. Timtar (Memories) sounds like that same song capoed up the guitar neck, its call-and-response lyrics contemplating a relationship on the rocks.
From its ominous, distantly Sabbath-inflected solo guitar intro to its jagged, similarly dark reggae groove and long, grim sprint to the finish line (or the grave), Iyat Ninhay/Jaguar (A Great Desert I Saw) reflects the imminent danger of getting lost in the Sahara’s endless expanse. The gently exploratory, acoustic Igmayagh Dum (My Lover) makes a striking contrast. The hushed acoustic ambience grows even duskier with the understatedly elegaic Ashuhada (Martyrs of the First Rebellion), the album’s most trad track.
Bombino plugs in again, seamlessly blending his tube-amped, distorted multitracks in the hard-hitting, anthemic Timidiwa (Friendship). The album winds up with the mutedly hypnotic, acoustic Naqqim Dagh Timshar (We Are Left in This Abandoned Place). If Tinariwen are the Grateful Dead of desert rock (musically at least), then Bombino is the style’s Jefferson Airplane – or, as far as cross-pollination is concerned, its Ravi Shankar. Psychedelic music fans in New York would be crazy to miss Saturday night’s show, especially since lately there always seems to be plenty of room in the arena. And, oh yeah, the concert is free.