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REVIEW: Touré-Raichel Collective / The Tel Aviv Session

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Tuesday March 20, 2012

from Roots World

The Touré-Raichel Collective
The Tel Aviv Session
Cumbancha (www.cumbancha.com)

Israeli jazz pianist Idan Raichel and Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré have more than enough credentials between them to assure an audience. But these kinds of collaborations often have a way of getting lost in the hype of family ties and homeland star status when they try to move out of their safe havens and into a bigger world. Like so many artistic anomalies, the execution rarely lives up to the potential.

This is not the case with the Raichel/Touré collaboration. The two artists seem to have a genuine affection for one another’s music and musical personalities. In these mostly low-key and relaxed sessions, joined by Israeli bassist Yossi Fine and Malian calabash player Souleymane Kane, the musicians play off the Malian traditions of Touré with simplicity and grace. Exemplary of this approach is the gentle “Hawa,” where Raichel lays back for the early section of the song, letting the guitar and calabash settle in and wander, and then punctuates the melody with improvisational phrases that push Touré into his own imaginative riffing. There’s no grandstanding, no fight for supremacy, just an exchange of ideas that develops slowly and takes you along.

There are guest shots scattered though the recording, with Ethiopian-rooted, Israeli-born singer Cabra Casey; Yankele Segal on the Persian tar; and Mark Eliyahu on kamanche adding to the mix. Perhaps the most energetic song of the session brings in a robust harmonica contribution from French musician Frédéric Yonnet, who pretty much steals “Touré” from the guitarist and pianist.

The CD does have some weak moments, pieces that seem to be rehearsals for some better performances on the recording. The program would have been well served by a bit of shortening, say 8 tracks instead of 11. Why is it that audio artists feel the need to fill a large canvas, as if a smaller one (say, the size of the Mona Lisa) would simply not be enough if a larger space is available?

But the track I have repeatedly and enthusiastically gone back to, in casual listening as well as in choosing songs for my radio programs, has been “Experience.” It opens up with Raichel briefly plucking the piano strings like a kora, ending in a brief resonant decay on open strings before he lays down a hypnotic melody line that sets the stage for Touré to begin the slow, steady buildup. Each prods the other, phrase by phrase over the unchanging bass and calabash, carefully building momentum. It is a study in understatement as a way to generate energy, and that is the defining groove developed by this collective – a restraint that allows the musicians to really listen to and drive one another forward, and for the audience to get deeply involved in the music they create.

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