Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Meta and the Cornerstones and Vieux Farka Toure Live in NYC 4/27/10

Wednesday night at le Poisson Rouge, one of the best doublebills in New York so far this year featured a headliner straight from Africa and an opener one step removed. Roots reggae band Meta and the Cornerstones have a Senegalese-American frontman along with band members from Lebanon, Israel and Texas, to name a few places. Bouncing their way through a set as diverse as the musicians’ origins, they reaffirmed their status as one of New York’s most captivating live acts. With two guitars, rhythm section, percussion, backup singer and a terrific keyboardist playing through organ and piano settings instead of the cheesy synthesized brass that the Jamaicans have been using for so long now, they set the tone for the night by getting at least 80% of the crowd on their feet and dancing throughout their too-brief 40-minute set. Among the songs were a wistful Marleyesque reminiscence about a night spent on a rooftop; a rousing anthem with a big, dramatic overture of an introduction dedicated to peace in the Middle East; a bracing minor-key narrative about a weed dealer in the hood hiding out from the cops; a fiery, upbeat song about the dispossessed underclass featuring a brief diversion into dub; a Brazilian-inflected dance tune, and then one dedicated to Senegal. The keyboardist took a solo using a stark, reverberating oldschool Arp synth setting, from minor-key wariness to soaring, jazzy flights down the scale and earned a roaring ovation. A surprising number of people left after they were done – their loss, because in his New York debut, Malian desert blues scion Vieux Farka Toure put one of the most exhilarating displays of guitar virtuosity this city’s seen in recent months.

It was the last stop on Ali Farka Toure’s oldest son’s latest American tour – he opens the World Cup festivities with a performance in Johannesburg this summer – and as expected it was a party. Playing through an icy wash of chorus and reverb somewhere between Albert Collins and late-period Ike Turner, he ran a series of simple, catchy, blues based phrases at mind-boggling, 32nd-note speed. Watching this guy fire off one endless salvo after another brought to mind an old John Coltrane comment: a writer once asked why he played so many glissandos, to which Coltrane retorted, “Those aren’t glissandos – they’re arpeggios.” Most guitarists of the Steve Vai or Buckethead school play like a fireman who’s lost control of a high pressure hose, hanging on for dear life as it randomly knocks over everything in its path. Toure shreds – but soulfully. His first-class four-piece backing unit – drums, calabash and an acoustic rhythm guitarist often playing in tandem with the bassist – were tight, inspired and seemingly invigorated for one last show, following every cue in a split-second as Toure would introduce a new rhythm or motif, or pull back and give himself a breather, getting a clapalong or some call-and-response vocalese going with the crowd.

The secret to his success? Simplicity. While his famous father would stay in the same key for twenty minutes at a clip, this particular Toure fils likes two-chord vamps, funky minor-key riffs and what he calls reggae but is basically just raw, primitive, pounding rock (the percussion section had a blast with a couple of these). He started the first numbers out slowly, rubato, feeling his way into them (once with a stark Middle Eastern riff) until the band picked up and then the race was on. The quietest number pulsed and blasted along on a slinky 6/8 soul beat, crazed, percussive sharpshooter guitar juxtaposed with silence as Toure methodically chose his spots. The drums went three on four for an especially hypnotic effect during the loudest and most intense of the final numbers.

By the time they reached the encore, Toure seemed pretty much out of gas but reached back for three long, incendiary crescendos, various members of both bands dancing around the stage (one of the promoters as well, though she was shy), finally leaving the stage to the percussionists who kept a volcanic rumble going until it was clear that the rest of the band really wasn’t coming back.

April 29, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Samba Touré – Songhai Blues

This is an exciting album for desert blues fans fans and fans of West African music in general. Malian guitarist Samba Touré‘s obvious influence is Ali Farka Toure (no relation), with whom he toured internationally as a guitarist in the late 90s. Yet Samba Touré’s got his own, uniquely individual style. It’s more upbeat than the Tuareg music of Tinariwen and their brethren, with a light touch and considerably more speed than most desert blues players, although Samba Touré pretty much eschews chord changes. Likewise, the instrumentation on this new cd is imaginative, drawing from traditional Malian music and including sokou (traditional violin), gnoni (four-string guitar), flute, and electric bass along with a small army of percussion. What’s also notable about this release is how the interlocking layers of guitar work off each other, and how they work within the interplay of the other instruments. Desert blues is one of the world’s most psychedelic styles of music, but this really takes it to another level. The lyrics are in Touré’s native Songhai.

The opening track – a call for unity and celebration of the diversity of Malian ethnicities – is characteristically hypnotic, sokou swirling around Toure’s electric guitar. Lyrically nostalgic, the cd’s second cut is slinky, ringing, fast desert blues with flute and a gorgeous mesh of ringing guitar layers. The third track has call-and-response vocals and a bit of a crescendo, the bass and sokou rising out of the mix like a fish leaping from the surface of a lake, and it’s adrenalizing.

Some of the other numbers work a repetitive, circular riff over and over (these are long songs, most of them clocking in at six or seven minutes). A celebration of Malian identity works off a theme that will be familiar to all Ali Farka Toure fans. There’s also an insistent, clanging number that gives a shout-out at the end to Touré’s mentor, a slight departure into funk and a vivid, fullscale tribute to Ali Farka Toure that ends the album. Somewhere an icon is smiling.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Amadou & Mariam – The Magic Couple

One of the real feel-good stories of recent years, Amadou & Mariam went blind at an early age, met while he was running a music school for the blind in their native Mali, and the rest is history. Just off a national tour opening for Coldplay this summer (whom they no doubt blew off the stage), their new cd collects some of the most inspired tracks from the duo’s 1997-2002 period, available for the first time in the western world. Some of the songs take a darkly bluesy western rock song structure and imbue it with austere, hypnotic desert blues guitar and violin, American piano and organ and the couple’s understatedly warm harmonies. Others hew closer to the minimalist, otherworldly desert blues style popularized by Ali Farka Toure and Tinariwen. It’s nothing if not psychedelic. The duo sing in French as well as native dialects, taking turns on lead vocals – Mariam has a uniquely and sweetly winsome delivery; Amadou’s also an excellent singer with a contrastingly bittersweet, soulful voice. What’s most striking is that this isn’t just pop music – the songwriting is artsy and complex, with playful, imaginative, completely out-of-the-box ideas and  tinges of both Bob Marley and Pink Floyd. Some of these songs are unselfconsciously romantic; others are more philosophical or socially aware.

The cd opens with Je Pense a Toi (I’m Thinking About You), a stark bluesy minor-key love ballad with characteristically tasteful incisive desert blues guitar. Sarama (la Charmante) has the piano playing Ali Farka Toure riffs. On the insistent harmony-driven antiwar song Combattants (Soldiers), Amadou solos through a Leslie organ speaker. The reggae feel is pervasive: on C’est Comme Ca (It’s Like That), there’s a brief interlude that hints at dub, with a cool bass solo. Chantez Chantez evokes some of the faster material on Marley’s Exodus album, with a bracing Chicago style blues guitar solo straight out of the Magic Sam riffbook. There’s also a funky soul-inflected number with flute and wah-wah guitar: sixties soul as played by Jethro Tull? The desert blues numbers are uniformly excellent as well, often spiced with horns, organ and lush layers of interweaving guitar lines. With those beautiful vocals and the recent Coldplay tour, this remarkably accessible album comes out at a particularly auspicious moment in the couple’s increasingly celebrated career. Good for them.

July 25, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Toumast – Ishumar

Hot on the heels of Tinariwen, here’s another expatritate Tuareg band, a very good one. Like their brethren (the two bands share several members), what Toumast play is ostensibly rock, but not what Western ears are used to hearing, although their music contains more definably Western tropes: chord changes, distinct verses/choruses and familiar guitar licks. The band name means “identity” in Tamashek, their native tongue, a matter of great importance for nomads who’ve been uprooted and persecuted in their native Mali for decades now. Like Tinariwen’s music, much of this is beautifully hypnotic, but Toumast is more energetic and melodically-oriented. Their songs are long, often going on for six minutes or more, replete with surprise false endings, crescendos that explode out of thin air, and upper-register blues guitar played with a clean, trebly tone. Their lead guitarist has a unique, percussive style, sounding as if he’s slapping at the strings like an American funk bass player would. Their lyrics are imbued with nostalgia and sometimes outright rage.

The album kicks off with Amidnine, an afrobeat-inflected number that meanders but eventually picks up steam. The following cut Ammilana opens with a chorus of women’s voices, haunting over a hypnotic 3/2 groove with a surprise crescendo driven by the bass before one of their trademark false endings. After that, Dounia opens with the guitar playing a funky bassline as the beat kicks in…and it’s pure 70s disco! The next track, Ezeref begins with an ominous melody that turns out to be straight out of The End by the Doors. Then, on Ikalane Walegh, they mine the Burning Spear catalog for the classic lick from Marcus Garvey, but play it faster, with gently Hendrix-inflected guitar. Finally, about halfway through the song, doubletracked guitars kick in and it bursts into flame.

Innulamane builds on a hypnotic chord until another recurrent lick is introduced, this one from Los Angeles by X. Say what you want about this band, you can’t say they aren’t adventurous listeners! The seven-minute epic Kik Ayyitma, perhaps the best cut on the album, builds its drama quietly from an ominous guitar intro followed by a rousing call from the singer, as the drums build almost unnoticeably until the deluge is unstoppable. After hearing this, one can only wonder how many other sons (and daughters) of Tinariwen are out there, doing the same thing, spreading across the desert via lo-fi cassette recordings. Fans of any hypnotic genre, from dub reggae to Mississippi hill country blues will find much to feast on here. Excellent album, four stars. Toumast make their New York debut sometime in the fall of 2008: watch this space for details.

March 16, 2008 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment