In the late 20th century, jazz artists like Herbie Hancock, Jean-Luc Ponty, Hank Jones and Randy Weston have performed and recorded with West African musicians. Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, the legendary jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd joins forces with the great Malian kora master, Toumani Diabate on their groundbreaking new CD, MALIcool
The project was recorded in Mali's bustling, Afro-Islamic capital, Bamako in 2001, after a successful concert in the city's French Cultural Center. Rudd's robust trombone tones and Diabate's 21-stringed, harpish kora solos are supported by an outstanding group of Malian musicians from the celebrated jeli caste. Lassana Diabete performs on the balofone, the wooden, xylophonic ancestor of the vibraphone; Basseko Kouyate plays the lute-like ngone, the prototype for the African-American banjo. Augmented by guitarist Sayon Sissoko and djembe drummer, Sekou Diabate, MALIcool is an excellent example of the marry jazz phrasing and improvisation to ancient African instruments, rhythms and musical forms. As Rudd wrote in the CD's liner notes, the sound of the strings and the balafon in MALIcool is a continuum with the introduction of breaks in Toumani's music to mark off improvised episodes. This gives each soloist a chance to play to the thoughtful limit of his creativity before passing along the opportunity to another soloist."
Evidence of that open form" dialog exists on all of ten tracks on MALIcool. From Toumani Diabate's processionally-pulsed Rosmani," and the reggae-fied Hank," with Mamadou Kouyate and Dala Diabate, to Rudds hip arrangements of the timeless Welsh standard, All Through the Night, Thelonious Monks Jackie-ing, the inventive and invigorating take on George Gershwins Summertime retitled Sena et Mariam and the intoxicating bass ostinato on For Toumani.
Adapting to different musical situations is nothing new to Roswell Rudd. Born on November 17, 1935 in Sharon, CT, Rudd has been on the cutting edge of music from dixieland to the avant-garde. He started playing the French horn at the age of 11, and switched to the trombone in his teens and gigged at Yale University. He worked with the pianist Herbie Nichols, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, trumpeter Bill Dixon and tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp in the early 60s. He led the New York Art Quartet in 1964 with saxophonist John Tchicai and performed in the October Revolution Free Jazz Festival. In the late '60s, he worked in bassist Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra and he formed the Primordial Quartet in 1968. In the '70s' Rudd composed for the Jazz Composer's Orchestra and taught at the college level. After sporadic work in the '80s, Rudd reasserted himself in the '90s with his recordings on the CMP label, including The Unheard Herbie Nichols, Vol. 1 and 2 in 1996 and 1997, and with his critically acclaimed Monk recording with Stacy Lacy on the Verve label in 2000, entitled Broad Strokes.
Born on August 10, 1965, Toumani Diabate learned to play the kora as a child, and was taught by his father. While versed in the traditiional music of his hertitage, Diabate, has also experimented with flamenco with the Spanish combo, Ketama, classical music, blues and jazz. Some of his best recorded work includes his 1998 masterpiece Djelika and the CD, New Ancient Strings (Hannibal), his kora duets with Ballanke Sissoko.
MALIcool swings with a snappy, sub-Saharan feel and adds credence to that old Latin phrase, out of Africa, always something new.