Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal: "Chamber Music" Ballaké Sissoko, Kora - Vincent Segal, Cello - No Format Records 2009

"Chamber Music" is an album of duets between French cellist Vincent Segal and Malian kora master Ballaké Sissoko (The West African kora, a 21-string harp, has been around for several hundred years). No stranger to collaborations, Sissoko has previously collaborated with the likes of Toumani Diabate on 2006’s New Ancient Strings and French pianist Ludovico Einaudi on 2005’s Diario Mali. He approached Segal after hearing him perform in Paris and pitched a unique idea: A set of duets between the two men and their instruments.

An album of instrumental cello-kora collaborations may seem a dodgy concept, but it works wonderfully and is lovely in it's own (often) quiet, intimate way. The interplay between the kora and cello is as unexpected as it is beautiful. At times playing in unison, more often in counterpoint to one another, the two sets of strings create complex rhythmic patterns that are sometimes hypnotic, elsewhere energizing, and always engaging. Segal and Sissoko trade off playing rhythm and lead, resulting in a sonic landscape that shifts constantly and retains interest throughout the long set.

This is a tranquil record overall, though never a dull one. Although there are moments of tension and long passages in which the two voices tug and tussle, the prevailing vibe is one of exploration and cooperation. On the ethereal "Houdesti", delicate tendrils of sound are repeated for minutes at a time, with minute variations in phrasing or instrumentation. Primitive percussion underscores the relatively uptempo "Ma-Ma’ FC", a playful tune that features Segal's exceptionally fluid playing.

The standout track "Oscarine" builds upon a quietly thrumming undercurrent-a plucked cello, while cascading runs of kora flitter above it. "Wo Yé N’Gnougobine" trundles along the familiar cadences of African folk rhythms, while "Histoire de Molly" toys with Celtic influences. Whatever the source material, these two musicians handle it adeptly, using the melodies and rhythms as a starting point for their explorations. Occasionally this takes them to free jazz territory, not exactly the most notable music here for this duo.

The last track "Mako Mady" is another strong work, as Segal's bass tones and Sissoko's harp-like arpeggios interweave to form something of brittle beauty, almost elegaic in tone. It's a fitting end to the record.

Guest musicians make understated appearances throughout, but the focus remains squarely on the two principals, and these other occasional sounds serve only as accents. The record is satisfyingly hefty; only two of its ten tracks clock in at less than five minutes, which allows the musicians time to explore. A special collection imo, I hope everyone enjoys the 'exotic' delicacy of it all..



Anonymous said...

Thank you for this CD, which I would have never heard but for your blog. Beautiful music for this Sunday in Northern California.

Tzadik said...

Anon in CA I thank you for commenting, I'm happy to learn that you enjoy this release and that it agrees with your Sunday-hopefully relaxing :)