Saturday, April 02, 2016

Aly Keita / Jan Galega Bronnimann / Lucas Niggli - Kalo Yele (Intakt Records, 2016)

This unusual combination of instruments makes for a different and exotic sounding album that is very much appreciated. The band consists of Aly Keita on balafon, which is a large xylophone with hollow gourds as resonators, normally used in West African music. Jan Galega Brönnimann accompanies him on bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet and soprano saxophone, while Lucas Niggli plays drums. The group achieves a fascinating sound throughout the album, beginning on “Kalo-Yele” which has a very cool mix of the balafon and drums that develops an exciting rhythm and an exotic sensibility to the music along with the clarinet, which swirls around the music. “Nyanga” adds a milder, softer and more understated feel to the music, but the nature of the instruments allows dynamism to come into play as the percussive nature of the balafon and drums can play with time and rhythm at will. The music becomes slower and more spacious on “Bean Bag” with spacious and open balafon and a quiet undertow of percussion. They are able to turn on a dime however, and ramp up into faster staccato bursts of rattling percussive sound. Brönnimann’s breathy and haunted clarinet sets the scene on “Mamabamako” where there is subtle percussion and quiet and spectral balafon being played off against a tapped cymbal in open space to great effect, allowing the song as a whole to develop glimpses of sadness and loss. “Makuku” is wonderful, a joy to hear as it features lighter than air clarinet melding with the bounding blalfon and percussion. The music is very colorful and expressive with excellent rhythm and rich improvisation. The music returns to a softer and sparer realm on “Longa” with ghostly clarinet wafting underneath the percussion instruments, which can flex open and close to change the rhythmic nature of the music. This allows the entire instrument to move around freely and unencumbered. “Dreams of Mikael” is one of the true highlights of the album, anchored by Keïta’s light and nimble balafon sound, the music is a fun and happy blast of noise with percussion and clarinet weaving through the bredth of the music as if constructing a fine piece of cloth. Brönnimann moves to soprano saxophone and rides over the thermals of the other two instruments to take flight on a fine solo. Finally, “Adjamé Street” ends the album on a spryer and nimble note with the musicians building a deeply set rhythm that allows everyone to move briskly from place to place. Whether supporting one another, flying free on their own or improvising as a team they are always in excellent formation. If there was any doubt that that balafon would fit in a jazz context, this album erases that completely. It is a beautiful instrument, and in Keïta’s hands it is capable of great emotional resonance. This was a very good album and shows just how open jazz is to the music that surrounds it, and that open minds mean limitless possibilities. Kalo-Yele -

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