Sunday, October 15, 2006

ORCHESTRA BAOBAB A Night at Club Baobab Oriki CD01

Given the title, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a live CD of Senegal’s finest Afro-Cuban band recorded in the Dakar nightclub in which they achieved their fame. But it’s actually a collection of their recordings covering the time when they were at the height of that success, from 1972 to 1978.
Culled from the dozens of LPs and cassettes they released during that period, it’s a set of lo-fi highlights, featuring both early versions of familiar Orchestra Baobab tunes and tracks that have remained in relative obscurity for decades.
The familiar imprint of Bartheliméy Atisso's melodious lead guitar lines and Issa Cissokho sax are present on most songs, with Atisso on particularly engaging form on a 1978 version of Jiin Ma Jiin Ma (which reappeared on the acclaimed Specialist in All Styles in 2002) and Sey from three years earlier, this an echoing mambo number notable for a raw performance on vocals from a young Thione Seck.
There are some other nice little surprises. Kelen Ati Leen from 1975 owes everything to James Brown with its funky bass and chunky rhythm guitar, Diarabi could be mistaken for pre-mbalax Etoile de Dakar, and the dense, bass-heavy Seeri Koko features a haunting vocal from the band’s original vocalist Laye M'Boup, who died in a car crash in 1975. Cabral is probably the biggest treat of all - warm harmonies, loping beat, sinuous sax and meaty guitar solos giving fair indication of a band about to slip into a higher musical gear.
My one gripe is that the sound quality is quite poor on one or two tracks, and on others the rhythm section is high up in the mix to the detriment of the rest of the band, in particular the brass section and vocalists.
If there’s any way these recordings could be re-mastered to remove those limitations, this fascinating round-up hints at the potential for a superb box-set retrospective.

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