At first blush, adding Roswell Rudd to a group of native West African musicians might seem, well, stretched. Surprisingly, though, it proves a remarkably impressive combination -- in large part due to the simple melodies, the opportunity for the trombonist to stretch out, and the quality of the band. Curiously, although recorded in Mali, half of the tunes are not indigenous to the region: Three are by Rudd, "Jackie-ing" is, of course, by Monk, and "All Through the Night" is a traditional Welsh song. Rudd plays the only Western-style horn (the others perform on a variety of local instruments or contribute vocals), and his burly tone and raunchy swagger take full advantage of the moment. The trombonist is in prime form, relaxed and expansive. The Africans are splendid, too, not only laying down a sympathetic carpet of light percussion over which the trombonist improvises but also providing some interesting diversions on instruments such as the kora, the balophone, the djembe, and the ngone. The acclaimed Toumani Diabate is co-leader of the session, contributes a few pieces, and shines on his native kora (a 21-stringed harp). "Jackie-ing" is perhaps the most interesting of the tunes, if only because it is so difficult for the Africans to manage. As Rudd explains in his notes, the tradition among the Africans is to focus on simple riffs as accompaniments and to continue to explore sections to their fullest rather than jumping to the next section of a song. Ultimately, these issues (and others) are worked out, and Monk is given a sort of facelift that proves compelling. Overall, the band is tight and well-rehearsed, Rudd's solos rival his best, and the tunes are catchy, simple, and accessible. Fans of the trombonist or of West African music will not wish to miss the opportunity to pick up this rare and exciting collaboration.
AllMusic Review by Steve Loewy