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Album Review

Headed up unobtrusively by pianist Andrew Oliver, the Kora Band is an experiment in compositional fusion. Incorporating the sounds of West African music into modern jazz isn't entirely unheard of, with Toumani Diabaté bridging some of the gaps over the years in his collaborations. Nonetheless, this is a different beast. The focus here is on the jazz, a relatively light and airy version of it, with the kora (provided outstandingly by Kane Mathis) taking an important part, but only a part, in the overall sound. Though the album is titled for the mountains near Oliver's home base of Portland, there's a tendency for kora music (and West African music, more generally) to use a cascading aesthetic in its sound, with notes falling over one another, descending over and over again to set a scene. The album starts out with a bit of Cuban-inspired music, a nod to the prevalence of Caribbean radio in Africa toward the end of the colonial period. Within a few tracks, it moves into more stable Northwest jazz with a fondness for piano grooves in "Over-caffeinated and Under-fed." The classic Mandinka piece "Koulandjan" is given an interesting reworking, with the piano taking the primary focus once reserved for the kora, and a guitar filling in for ambience. A converted trio of kora, bass, and percussion provides a thick groove in "Sori" that changes the basic sound structure simply through refocusing, despite using per-instrument aesthetics similar to those on the rest of the album. Cascades treads a careful line here, being cerebral enough to form complex interplay between the traditional kora sounds and modern piano sounds, but more importantly, being able to fuse the musics into something that is at once modern, thoughtful jazz, and an innovation upon traditional music. It almost stretches toward clichés of worldbeat and world jazz, but doesn't sully itself with the simplicities afforded by taking on new sound elements. Instead, it only plays with the differences, making a unified whole that is both new and respectable, from the standpoint of both incorporated genres.

Cascades, The Kora Band
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  • £7.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music
  • Released: 21 September 2010

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