Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze at Istanbul | Program Notes
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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze at Istanbul

Posted By on Tue, Mar 9, 2010 at 5:22 PM

I was drawn by the concept alone: a musical collaboration between a Senegalese griot singer who plays a traditional, 21-stringed kora, and a German-born jazz trumpeter.

Cissoko dons traditional robes for the performance, but not counting the video projection that accompanied one song, that was the lone adornment on the suddenly large- and bare-looking Istanbul stage. It was just the unassuming Goetze, hair slicked back, two trumpets (one muted) at the ready, and Cissoko, both seated.

The most intriguing presence might have been that of the kora. Its body was half a large gourd, the open face covered by calfskin, its neck about a yard long. Cissoko played it on his lap, the neck straight up, making it hard to see his face. He held it with three fingers of each hand grasping each of two small posts extending parallel to the neck from the body. He played the 21 unfretted strings with his thumbs and index fingers. 

The sound was beautiful, a high and clear cascade of notes, pretty close to Goetze's description of "African harp-lute." Most of the songs were traditional or in that style, Goetze complementing with smoky riffs. It was as mellow as it was deeply felt. Rusted Root's Colter Harper, who's traveled and studied music in Africa, sat in for two numbers on electric guitar.

The show (organized by CP contributor Manny Theiner) had come together late, perhaps accounting for the fact that only about 50 people showed up for the Pittsburgh stop on the duo's first world tour. (Their local visit, which included an interview on WYEP, was sandwiched between gigs in State College and Washington, D.C.'s Twins Jazz.)

The two met at a European jazz festival and have been collaborating for a while, though in some ways they're still getting to know each other: Goetze struggled at times to translate Cissoko's French, and needed help from an African-born man in the audience. But their partnership has already birthed an album, Sira (on Obliq Sound). And they're fundraising for a documentary about Cissoko, titled The Griot, whose progress you can track at www.griotmovie.com.

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