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.
'Lift' is an album in which Young Japanese pianist/composer Koki Nakano constructs his own musical world. Piano and cello combine in a selection of beautiful pieces, where Nakano draws on his classical background whilst weaving in other influences, using repetitive and rhythmic elements of jazz and creating layers of sound inspired by pop and electronic music.
M. Ward's Transfiguration of Vincent is nothing less than spectacular. From the buoyant, late-Beatlesque "Vincent O'Brien" to the dank, shuffling, south of the border groove on "Sad, Sad Song," the troubadour manages to capture a timeless folkiness and match it with a surreal and sparkling sense of nostalgia that clearly echoes Tom Waits. Recorded with the Old Joe Clarks as the backup band, Transfiguration is rooted firmly in old-time Americana, yet M. Ward's take on country and particularly his vocals somehow fit perfectly with Giant Sand, Sparklehorse, and California's surreal, pastoral psych-pop outfit Grandaddy (whose Jason Lytle contributed some field recordings).