Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sira: Kora & Trumpet

By Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze

The kora might be somewhat exotic, but is not unheard of in jazz contexts, having been featured on sessions led by Randy Weston and Herbie Hancock, among others. However, a preeminent jazz kora player has yet to emerge—until now, perhaps. Together with German jazz trumpeter Volker Goetze, Senegalese kora player Ablaye Cissoko has recorded Sira, a gorgeous jazz-world fusion duo set that is surprisingly pronounced in its jazz inclinations.

As is immediately evident on the initial title track “Sira,” named after Cissoko’s daughter, their duets are haunting in their intimacy. Cissoko plays delicate cascades of notes on the kora that blend perfectly with his impassioned vocals and Volker’s burnished trumpet sound, which establishes the almost mystical vibe of the session.

Volker has a warm tone that on tunes like the traditional “Gorgorlou” would not be out of place in classical chamber music. In fact, this is chamber music, played with remarkable rapport. As a composer, Cissoko has also written some very evocative melodies, like the brief “Domain Domain,” which still features succinct but legitimate jazz solos from both artists.

Cissoko’s kora has a lush, even baroque sound at times. Yet the session over all has a hushed intensity that is pretty powerful, as on the kora player’s solo feature, “Faro,” co-composed with Goetze. Although Cissoko contributes most of the originals, Goetze penned the rhythmic but strangely elegant “Bamaya,” inspired by the Dogbane harvest dances of Ghana.

Sira concludes with two of the three traditional West African songs arranged by Cissoko. His clear and powerful vocal delivery on “Sakhadougou” and “Mansanni Cisse” should appeal to fans of his famous countryman, Youssou N’Dour. Richly melodic and deeply contemplative, they nicely sum up the collaboration between the two musicians.

Cissoko and Goetze are not newcomers to the jazz scene, having worked with musicians like Randy Weston and Craig Handy, respectively. However, Sira is still likely to strike a lot of jazz ears like a bolt out of the clear blue sky. It is an amazingly assured musical statement. Like fresh water flowing out of a deep well, it has a sound that sparkles, but is deeply rooted in centuries old traditions.