May 26 2014
It’s the way in which the European and West African elements snap so perfectly into place that is the most compelling aspect of Timbuktu, the new release by the Hans Lüdemann Trio Ivoire. This is not a blend of influences. Timbuktu is an approach of selecting choice aspects from modern European jazz and West African music and identifying their points of connectivity, those areas of similarity where a transference of creative ideas can flow seamlessly to the point it is difficult to identify the line of demarcation between the two.
The communication between piano, drums, and balaphon is remarkably unhindered, as if these instruments had been collaborating as a jazz trio for decades. The trio develops grooves that unfold nice and easy. There is nothing fussy about this album or overdeveloped. Shapely, concise melodies behave as the traffic lane guiding cheerful rhythms that spark with all kinds of life. The balaphon, loosely comparable to the role a vibraphone might play in a more traditional setting, takes on the dual role of melodic embellishment and rhythmic co-conspirator. Add to this context the piano’s ability to do exactly that same thing, and it explains the attractive rhythmic ebb and flow on this recording… where the gradual shift from melodic focus to a rising tide of percussion, cresting, then sliding back down again is a powerful sonic force. That the trio does this with an easy grace and cheerfulness results in a compelling contrast in tone and tenor.
“Heartbeats” and “Love Confessions” most represent what is to be found on this recording… the trio uniting a catchy melody, a succession of piano and balaphon solos, and the blues. But the trio does mix things up, too. “Maloya” and “Douentza” lean in with African music rhythms that are all about inciting the motion of dance. And then there’s the hypnotic “Perles Noires,” a duo of piano and balaphon that comes across similarly to the heady minimalism of Nik Bartsch’s Ronin… dark tones and a curiously soothing warmth. “Crum” is a dizzying progression from an updated West-coast jazz “Blue Rondo a la Turk” to a spry African-inspired balaphon dance to an introspective piano interlude to the ebullient cadence of a parade march and then back again to whence it began.
There’s a bit of electronics and effects on the album, but they’re dispensed infrequently and in mild doses. Some of this crosses paths with the chipper melody and brisk pace of “Treiben,” providing a little extra depth to an immeasurably strong personality.
The album ends with “Ndo,” a sunny tune with a pretty melody and a cross-rhythm that bursts with liveliness. It’s a proper way to end an album comprised of just such tunes.
A fun and beautiful album.
Your album personnel: Hans Lüdemann (piano, virtual piano), Aly Keita (diatonic & chromatic balaphon), and Christian Thomé (drums, percussion, electronics).
Released on Intuition Music.
The trio members are part of both the Berlin and Ivory Coast scenes.