Sunday, May 24, 2009

BA CISSOKO - Séno (Stern's)

From electric griots to eclectic griots; for their third album, the Guinean electro-kora quartet have further pared back the wah-wah kora and beefburger guitar that was the ensemble's initial USP, refining the pop sensibility that crept into Séno's predecessor Electric Griot Land by taking in Latin influences, adding more of the lilting reggae heard on their second album and combining all that with some traditional (but self-penned) rolling Mandé rhythms. But fear not, wah-wah lovers, Ba Cissoko still push the electric envelope at times. On Badinia, Abdoulaye Kouyaté's guitar buzzes away as Sékou Kouyaté’s plugged in kora does its echoing, fed-back bit. And the funky electric guitar that leads feathery flurries of kora on Tamo and Music will please fans of the band's debut album.
There's a lot more going on elsewhere, intertwining kora melodies bubble in and out of syncopated rhythms, subtle - almost Americana-style acoustic guitar - is added to the mix in places, and a touch of flamenco guitar seeps through on tracks such as the funky Chauffeur Taxi.
It all makes for a consistently engaging and varied set, but the most pleasing development of all is the improvement in Ba Cissoko's vocals. One drawback of the previous two Ba Cissoko was in Ba's occasional inability to stretch his relaxed but limited range to meet the more polished and mellifluous arrangements. There are more of those than ever on Séno, but Cissoko's voice is much stronger and flexible too, and therefore better able to cope with the tunes. He's smooth and sure when he needs to be, and helped by a slight echo effect at times when more atmosphere is called for, all of wich enhances a much more nuanced and melodically strong collection of songs than previously.
Overall then, there's a lighter, tighter feel to this third offering from the cousins from Conakry, they're less reliant on guest appearances on an album that benefits from a more sinewy, melodic sound, with a growing tendency towards more wholly 'traditional' tunes. There's a sense that the electricity is gradually being turned down on each successive Ba Cissoko album, but there's a new spark there, one of refined song craft and a wider range of musical possibilities.

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