Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 10, No. 5, 2011

  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Andrée Lafontaine
Samuel Burd
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Diane Gordon
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
  Photographer Chantal Levesque
Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
  Between Sets Archives
Chocolate Genius
Harry Manx
Ray Bonneville
Ana Popovic
Martha Wainwright
Marc Jordan
Juana Molina
Paulo Ramos
Pat Martino
Gerry Gerber

Montreal Jazz Festival 2005







Piano Keyboard




© Chantal Levesque

When 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.

In music, 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.

In respect 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.

With a nod to the spirit that gave birth to the movement and as part of its all year round Montreal Jazz Festival, French-born cellist Vincent Segal and Mali-born kora player Ballaké Sissoko were invited to perform selections from their CD, Chamber Music (2009).

I can’t 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.

In the 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.

Sissoko, 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 music.

They 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.

What 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.

As such, 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.

From 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.

Photo © Chantal Levesque


Wes Montgomery
Paco de Lucia
Joe Pass
Miles Davis
T. Monk
The Bird
Dizzy G.
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis