Jean-Jacques Avenel

Waraba

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African fusions have been approached in any number of different ways, but this mix of jazz and traditional Manding music is definitely something different. French bassist Avenel has worked for years with kora players, but this time out seems to nail both the spirit of tradition and adventure. Listen, for example, to "Pi-Pande," where overdubbed basses move the textures and melody, while the kora provides a beautiful high overlay. On the original "Batou Kagni" it's flute, bass and n'goni that do the work, bouncing off each other in some excellent improvisations. And on "Jarabi" the music seems to travel, moving from West Africa across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. All in all it makes for a heady mix that works on all levels -- intelligently, thoughtfully, and with a sense of passion about the music. The backgrounds of the musicians mean different approaches to the music, although those mesh very well -- as a group the dynamics become ideal, as they show on the closer, "Tubaka." It'll be interesting to see where they take these ideas next time around; certainly on this outing they're successful enough.

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