fusion works well (and it often doesn’t) the elements combine
as naturally as sodium and chloride or hydrogen and oxygen, to
form salt and water -- the building blocks of life.
when jazz first, and quite spectacularly, combined with rock,
and fusion became "fusion," it took on two major forms:
jazz married to other genres (rock, pop, blues and later rap and
hip-hop) or melded into the music (and mindset) of another culture.
to the latter, one of the first and most notable fusions culminated
in the Shakti albums from the mid-1970s that featured from the
West guitarist/composer John McLaughlin, and from India violinist
L. Shankar and a rhythm section comprised of the country’s
elite tabla and mridangam players. At the time, it was a bold
and daring music that combined extraordinary musicianship and
invention and lent to the genre a viability that was equal to
the constantly changing circumstances of the world as it turned.
a nod to the spirit that gave birth to the movement and as part
of its all year round Montreal
French-born cellist Vincent Segal and Mali-born koraplayer Ballaké Sissoko were invited to perform selections
from their CD, Chamber Music (2009).
think of a generic sound of an instrument that goes more directly
to the brain than the kora. For its serenity inducing effects,
it is the exemplary metaphysical antidote to the stressful times
we live in. Unlike harp notes which bleed into each other, the
kora note (in upper registers) vanishes upon contact such that
the melodies -- the gorgeously fragile ascents and descents --
refract and tingle like crystal.
hands of a master musician Ballaké Sissoko, the kora’s
preternaturally soothing strings set the tone for a memorable
evening of late summer music performed before an exceptionally
appreciative, capacity crowd at l’Astral,
Montreal’s newest jazz club. Never have strings been so
delicately and poignantly plucked.
who is responsible for most of the writing, was accompanied by
classically trained and cellist extraordinaire Vincent
Segal, whose highly creative entries and exits, solos and bass
accompaniment were briliantly blended into the kora vibe. From
his cello, Segal was able to generate a variety of unusual soundscapes
and textures in contrast to the kora whose emotive underpinnings
are more static. Segal manipulated his thickly (compared to the
violin) wound cello strings to produce haunting, sometimes scratchy,
sometimes flutish, tuberous surfaces, all of which, along with
an assortment of bow-produced percussive flourishes, added depth
and dimension to a sound that by its nature runs a very even keel.
Segal’s already extensive musical vocabulary has been doubtlessly
enriched by his personal knowledge of Mali and its indigenous
appositely decided on Chamber Music for the title of
their debut album because of its deliciously small and elegant
refinements. And while the album -- for its precious warmth and
intimacy -- is definitively chamber in its bearing, every selection
includes a cadenza (that section of a classical composition that
allows for improvisation) which gives it its jazz creds.
stood out beyond the endearing grace and civility that issued
from the music and the beautiful melodies that flowed uninterrupted
was the natural complicity of the musicians who obviously enjoy
and respect each other’s company and culture and share a
willingness to allow the music to set its own terms of reference.
there is much positive to be said about this exceptional pairing
of musicians and a musical invention that is ultimately more about
mood than modulations into different keys. Since much of the music
is dedicated to a single harmonic and the restful atmospherics
established by the kora, it is fair to ask if the music, qua
music, can stand up to the scrutiny of success listenings. That
doubt dutifully raised, the spontaneity and creativity displayed
at the l’Astral predicts a second album that will be at
least novel and engaging as Chamber Music, which serves
as a reminder of what the genre of fusion stood for in terms of
opening new horizons -- where setting suns never set.
the nether regions of Timbuktu to spire inspired Reims, bravo
to Ballaké and Vincent for invigorating a genre that for
the most part has betrayed its early promise and put our great
expectations on indefinite hold.