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SOURCE w/ Abdoulaye Diabate
Tonight's African Jazz Band
Completelly Nuts Records, 2006

"Bara"
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Abdoulaye Diabate—originally of Kela, Mali, and brother of the legendary Mande vocalist Kasse Mady Diabate—may well be the most talented African singer currently resident in the United States. He is part of a community of West African musicians who once blended invisibly into the African enclaves of Harlem and Bronx, but who now are emerging in collaboration with players of more varied backgrounds. In recent years, Diabate’s singular voice has not been heard only singing griot praise at African weddings and baptisms, but haunting downtown establishments like the Zinc Bar on Houston St. That’s where Source, aptly dubbed an “African jazz” band, has been polishing the sound heard on this debut recording.

Sylvain Leroux, Source’s leader and arranger, plays a variety of instruments, most notably the Fula flute, tambin. In Guinea, Leroux learned how to tease raucous, overblown bursts of sound from this humble tube, and he added that to his considerable prowess as a jazz improviser. Each player here has his story, some coming squarely from the ranks of African pop, such as bassist Mamadou Ba, and Mande guitarist “Djékorya” Mory Kante, whose sinewy lines and twangy, florid solos never fail to please, and others from broader pop and jazz backgrounds, such as drummer Robert Bonhomme and keyboardist Shai Bachar. Bailo Bah of Guinea, a master of the tambin, joins Leroux at times, creating Fula flute frenzy, and there are also some guest artists here, including welcome brass players on one track.

The grooves on these seven tracks are varied, Afro Latin on the ebullient opener, “Bara,” Mande pop on “Magali,” with its splendid interplay of flute and guitar, somewhere near classic Congo rumba on “Manquez Pas,” and elsewhere flavors of samba and African 12/8 groove. Almost any time Abdoulaye is singing, whether in his smoldering, cool low voice, or his amazing, full-on gut cry, the sound is magic. This being a jazz band, there are many long instrumental passages. The flute and guitar solos are well crafted and emotionally satisfying, fully crediting the very notion of African jazz. For this listener—admittedly no fan of keyboards in almost any African music—the keys become a problem at times here. Bachar is a fine player, but when he bores into “No More Trouble” with an abrasive tone out of Emerson Lake and Palmer, and layers on excessive rhythm and harmony, something gets lost. The sound shifts from a piquant blend of jazz and African roots, to mere jazz fusion, something inherently less interesting.

Source is at is best when digging into serious emotional spaces, the dark uplift of Mande pop, or the mysterious, meditative “Caravan.” The lightest material sells them short. Fine flute and keyboard solos can’t save Diabate’s well meaning song about war, “La Guerre,” with its French vocals and tepid groove. But this is a splendid group whose sound and spirit capture a unique moment of African emergence and synthesis in New York City.

Contributed by: Banning Eyre for www.afropop.org

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