Monday, February 10, 2020

Aly Keita / Jan Galega Bronnimann / Lucas Niggli - Kalan Teban (Intakt Records, 2020)

Aly Keïta, Jan Galega Brönnimann, Lucas Niggli come together to produce a fascinating album of world jazz, that pulses with interesting swirling bands of sound and improvisation. While this can be considered an unusual combination of instruments in jazz, it makes for an exotic sounding album that is very enjoyable. The band consists of Keita on balafon, which is a large xylophone with hollow gourds as resonators, normally used in West African music. Brönnimann plays bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet and soprano saxophone, and Lucas Niggli is on drums. It is the sound of these instruments playing together that is so alluring, the balafon has a lighter sound than might be found in traditional jazz instruments like the vibraphone with much less of a ringing sustaining sound. This higher pitched and slightly rounded sound meshes very well with the lower tones of Brönnimann's bass and contrabass clarinet, with the light and shade created by those two instruments creating passages of wonderfully colorful improvisation. Niggli's percussion adds even more rhythmic possibilities that allow the performances to flow in unexpected directions as the musicians come together for complex improvisations. The music can be hypnotically beautiful, spiraling out in melodic formations, whether supporting one another, flying free on their own or improvising as a team they are always in excellent formation. "Djafa-Nema" is an excellent example with an urgent and repetitive theme first developed on the balafon, then spread to bass clarinet and percussion, which then moves into a fast and fleet collective improvisation that involves each of the three members of the group playing at their peak. Brönnimann solos confidently as the other two musicians develop a complex percussive rhythm behind him, and the music is able to develop dynamically as Keita's solo evolves organically out of the music that they had been creating. Niggli has room for a muscular drum solo that is framed by his two colleagues and serves to drive the music to a very successful conclusion. The balafon is a beautiful instrument with a wonderful tone and sound that deserves to be used more often in jazz, and hopefully the success of this this album will serve to turn some heads and see it incorporated into more ensembles. Keïta’s plays the instrument with great confidence and clarity, and his bandmates are no less powerful in their respective instruments, coming together to make very enjoyable music. This was a very good album, which demonstrates another path available for jazz music to grow, by inviting and investigating the music that is all around the world,  broadening minds to the limitless possibilities of improvised music. Kalan Teban -

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