Blue Monster Records, 2002

If you think of flute music as gentle and dulcet, you probably haven't heard the howling and growling of the Fula flute, most typical of the Fouta Diallon in Guinea. The overblown flute that thrilled rock fans in the music of Jethro Tull back in the '70s seems tame when compared with the exhilarating, playful theatrics of New York based flautist Bailo Bah. Bah is the featured player in this ground-breaking ensemble, the first to put this popular West African sound front and center at all times.

Sylvain Leroux, originally from Montreal but now an important figure in New York's African music scene, studied Fula flute in Guinea and produced this recording. Most of the tracks are played by Bah and Leroux on two wooden flutes, called tambin. The opening track, "Wali," starts out with a wild flourish from Bah and then settles into a gorgeous texture with Leroux laying out a cyclic bass over which Bah snarls and wails. There's a deep, elemental feel to Bah's more passionate outbursts, full of notes half-sung and half-played. But there are also lots of serene moments, as on the stately flute duo, "N'Diannamo" and the waltz-like "Soundiata."

This set includes a number of classic songs from the standard Manding griot repertoire, like "Keme Bourema," "Djanjou," and "Soundiata." Some of these feature rich accompaniment by other New York based Manding musicians, notably balafonist Famoro Kouyate and kora players Keba Cissoko and Yacouba Sissoko. Yacouba's lacey, racing melodies on "Djanjou" provide a delicious foil to the dueling flutes. The decision to include other sounds is a good one; they are present just enough to vary the textures without taking the focus away from the all-important flutes.

Bailo Bah is an extraordinarily expressive player capable of beautiful reverie on "Folinke," backed by rolling balafon and bass, and also dramatic flights of emotive improvisation, as on the darkly majestic "Douga." Leroux includes one original composition, "Teriya," which brings in the influence of French Canadian folk music as well as two Brazilian berimbaus. Fula Flute, the group and the record, represent an inspired and original idea carried out with energy and flare.

Contributed by: Banning Eyre for





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