FULA FLUTE (Blue Monster Records)

With the enormous surge in interest in the non-percussion instruments and music of West Africa in recent years, it's quite amazing that this is the first recording to feature the fula (or peul) flute of the Fulani peoples. Like the kora, up until recent times this instrument, also known as the tambin was primarily one of accompaniment or of solace for the lonely herdsman. The sound of the tambin is quite unlike that of the classical flute. In the hands of the master practitioners it is capable of producing vocal and multiphonic effects, not dissimilar to the way that a gifted jazz flautist may fuse these elements into his/her improvisations. Bailo Bah is a master musician who hails from Senegal.

The pieces presented here are from both the Fulani and Mandinka repertoire and are very varied, ranging from haunting ostinato pieces to complicated interactions between balafons and kora. Acoustic bass can be heard on one track while berimbaus are incorporated on another adding a unique but appropriate tone to the overall sound. The melodies are beautiful, simple yet often expanding into rhythmically complex variations. Although quite different, the moods engendered by Fula Flute remind me of the brilliant "Matchowe" by Guinean saxophonist Momo Wandel Soumah.

This is probably emphasized by the one original number on the album the beautiful "Teriya" which evinces a similar modal intensity that might call to mind the music of John Coltrane. A groundbreaking and exhilarating record with the minor caveat that just occasionally the superb sonic quality of the recording can add a startled air to Bailo's vocal interjections or the pristinely captured sounds of the balafon. I'm not sure that African music is meant to be heard that way. But then that's just me.

Highly recommended.



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