When Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal released their first collaborative album, Chamber Music, they caught the music world by surprise. Everything about this duo was unexpected: the Malian master of the traditional harp, or kora; the French cellist with the unlikely background in trip-hop; and the elegant, soulful music they made together. The album appeared on numerous best-of lists in both Europe (in 2009) and North America (in 2011). Now, these two sonic voyagers have returned with Musique de Nuit (“Night Music”) – an album which may not have the same element of surprise, but which may be even more spellbinding than its predecessor.
Ballake Sissoko opens his new album, “At Peace,” with “Maimouna,” his solo showcase for the kora, the West African harp with 21 strings rising vertically from a huge calabash gourd. For those unfamiliar with the instrument, its broad range, sparkling tone and shimmering effects are vividly displayed here. For those who do know the kora, Sissoko is a virtuoso who can run through a blur of speeding notes and then brake for a crisply articulated theme. On this piece, Sissoko repeats the same descending figure, but with the melodic path and rhythmic organization slightly altered each time.
Toumani Diabate is one of the finest contemporary kora players. Diabate teams with Ballake Sissoko for New Ancient Strings, a collection of African harp duets. Recorded in one take in Diabate's native Mali, New Ancient Strings is at once ethereal and earthy.
Vincent Herring is complemented by rising young trumpeter Jeremy Pelt on this enjoyable studio date. "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm" is a standard from the swing era, though the quintet translates it into a hard bop vehicle very well, with the leader throwing in a quick reference to another song ("Kerry Dance") from long ago. Herring is a bit playful in his treatment of the ballad "You Leave Me Breathless," while he handles McCoy Tyner's explosive "Four by Five" with finesse. But most of the session is devoted to originals by the band. Bassist Richie Goods contributed the funky, infectious "Citizen of Zamunda," which showcases the leader on his dancing soprano sax. Pianist Danny Grissert, who evidently made his recording debut with this CD, not only proves himself as a capable soloist, but also penned the exciting "Hopscotch" (marked by its use of stop time) and the tense "Encounters."